Sunday, December 24, 2006

God Bless Us All, Everyone

Merry Christmas, my friends. I have had many thoughts about the season of Christ's birth, unfortunately my time has been severely limited here at the ol' blog. But I'll get a little break after the holiday and get a few of them launched into cyberspace. I promise. Really.

I'm also considering some exciting things for this place in the new year. Stay tuned.

I pray that the celebration of Christ's birth will remind you of the love that God has continually shown to us.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Real Miracle

I stopped over at Gayla's blog Saturday when I had a few moments. I've missed reading some of the wonderful blogs during my time of extreme multi-employment. But anyway, Gayla was musing over a lot of tough questions and the like. The post is sure worth a read, but if you want the short version, she eventually got to the question of faith, miracles and healing. I had to share in her comments what God had impressed upon me. Then I figured I'd better do it here on the home court blog as well.

In the comment thread, Carol mentioned one of my favorite Old Testament lessons, about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those three had the correct understanding of faith -- that God will see us through on HIS terms. It's His will that matters, not our own. So they could stand before the king and say, "God can deliver, and even if He doesn't deliver like you think, He'll still deliver" Whether it's in the fire, from the fire or through the fire, God delivers.

I was reminded of something odd that God had shown me. While reading through the Bible, I've always been struck by the fact that when Jesus healed and when the apostles healed, the healings were never temporary or partial. Yet at the same time, God provides all kinds of temporary relief while delivering us through the fire.

At our church, a young woman was told she had a tumor on her kidney. We gathered around her and prayed, and we prayed individually for God to heal her. The next week she found out that it wasn't a tumor, but simply an odd-shaped kidney. Her family was talking about this being a miracle. Of course the skeptics would simply call it a misdiagnosis.

But I saw something else. I saw how this woman was uplifted and carried along knowing that the congregation was praying for her and knowing that God was seeing her through. And maybe, just maybe, that was the real miracle in all of this... learning to lean on Him.

Why is it so hard to lean? Why must we fool ourselves into thinking we can stand strong on our own? It is indeed a miracle -- overcoming our own self-importance -- to lean upon Him. It's just a shame that we need to be severely depleted before we understand our own weakness.

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak
And so are we
But He is strong.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I know what you're thinking.

"It's been awfully quiet around Attention Span lately... what's going on?"

Let me explain.

For the last three weeks, I've been busy. I know, I know, we're all busy, but these few weeks have been especially so for me, and by extension, for my wife and kids. You see, I've been training for another job. It's just a job as a substitute, but I have to go through all the red tape and jump the hoops like I was going to do this every day. So for a little more than two weeks, I have spent the first half of my day in training, full-time. After that, I would leave the training site (which was at least 45 minutes away) and go to my other full-time job, where I was part of a team working on a special project, not to mention the normal work I do. And, oh yeah, did I mention that neither one of these two jobs is my pastoral job?

Yeah, I've been a three job guy for about three weeks. It has slowed up considerably now. The special project is done. The major portion of my training is done. All in time for December and the hustle and bustle of a church during the Christmas season.

Thanksgiving week was especially trying because that week my training site was about 90 minutes away. Three extra hours on the road were just three hours a night I could have slept. But the neatest thing happened.


I was annoyed at first that my five days of training would be extended because of missing the Thursday of Thanksgiving. I told myself that it would really be a pain to get out of the groove of making the drive, training, driving back, working my other job, getting home late and waving at my kids on the way to bed. But by Wednesday, I was dragging. Scratch that. I was all-but-unconscious. When I fell onto the mattress Wednesday night, it was all I could do to lift my head to get it onto the pillow.

Then I remembered. Tomorrow I didn't have to rise early. It was Thanksgiving. And among all the other things I was thankful for, a day of relaxing with family was high on the list indeed. I'm not sure how I would have made it otherwise.

Anyway, for two weeks I worked two jobs (not counting being a pastor), and somewhere along the line I figured out that since I was working two full-time jobs, that I would be getting paid for two full-time jobs! Lack of sleep probably delayed this realization, but it wasn't too far into the process that reality hit me. I found out that on December 1 I would get my check for all the training hours I put in. Coincidentally, December 1 is also the day checks arrive for my other weekday job.

I started thinking about getting two paychecks on one day. The waiting was hard, but I kept going. I knew there were Christmas presents to buy and a couple of unexpected bills that needed to be paid. No matter what I did, I couldn't get the checks earlier -- I had to wait.

Today is December 1. Payday. Two checks, baby! Was it all worth it? I'm not sure. Money isn't a big motivator for me, but knowing I had use for the cash made the waiting that much harder.

During my so-called spare time this week, I've been contemplating Advent. To me, Advent has always been about the waiting. Sure, there are plenty of other aspects to the season, but waiting is a central theme. Waiting for Messiah. Waiting for Christmas. Even waiting to watch the Advent candles burn down to a nub. There is so much waiting going on, it makes a check-out line at the department store seem so apropos.

The waiting is harder when I realize how much I need what I'm waiting for. I need that little baby in swaddling clothes. He is the only hope for me. I know what being away from God is like. I know what neglecting Him is like. I truly need Emmanuel. Yet today, I don't need to wait. You see, today is payday. Not just two payroll checks, but access to what I need.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


We celebrated Thanksgiving as a church family on Sunday. No turkey, but we had a couple of flocks of chickens, fried up to perfection. Then there was the rest of the feast, assembled on a few tables. Crock pot after crock pot. Cheese tray after cheese tray. And need I mention, pie after pie. Yes, it was delicious. All left for home without hunger pangs, or for that matter, without need for any other meal that day.

After the majority of people had left, a group of us stayed around to clean up. One of the weiredest times at the church is after a big potluck or church meal. What food is left is generally divided up between the bunch of us who stay. That usually feeds our families that day or the next. But I'm always amazed at how much is left. On Sunday, I brought home what amounted to about a bucket and a half of chicken and nearly two dozen dinner rolls. We finally finished off the leftovers on Tuesday.

I'm reminded of twelve men with baskets, picking up leftovers from a crowd of 5000 men, plus their wives and kids after Jesus said a prayer over a few dinner rolls and a couple of little fish. "Where did all this come from?" had to be repeating through their heads. Jesus had provided a live example of the generosity of God, right in their midst.

He gives us the same reminder today, and every day. Enjoy the turkey and all the trimmings. And when you make that last turkey sandwich or suck the last of the cranberry sauce from the spoon, I hope the same "Where did all this come from?" question keeps running through your mind. And I hope you realize the live example of God's generosity in your midst.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Vet

He wasn't much different than any other young man. Drafted at the tender age of nineteen, he was taught how to fix and maintain airplanes. Then he and nine companions were shipped to England and were formed into a crew of a B-17 bomber. The missions they were given were incredibly risky, but thirty times they set out and thirty times they returned. Then came mission number 31.

Dale remembers most of what happened on that August afternoon, and considering it happened 62 years ago, that's quite a memory. But it's not a happy memory. These men he called his brothers were with him over Nazi Germany as they made one more bombing run. Catching enemy anti-aircraft fire was nothing new for them. Dale told me that the plane once returned with 256 holes in it, but not one scratch was found on any of the crew. On mission number 31, they weren't so lucky.

Something struck the plane's gas tank at 30,000 feet. Although there was extra protection around the tank, somehow a shell made it through. A wing was blown off the plane, and the crew began to bail out. Two men didn't make it out in time.

Dale and the navigator ended up coming down near one another, and as Dale looked down he could see that his close friend was being attacked by German civilians. When he landed, he tried to run, but Dale was beaten also. The navigator was killed before Nazi soldiers broke up the melee. Dale lay unconscious with a broken skull.

Dale spent almost a year in Nazi POW camps. He saw horrible things, but worse yet, Dale also lived through some horrible things. Sixty men were loaded on a small boxcar to be shipped from one POW camp to another, but Allied shelling forced the train to stop. The Nazis ran for cover, but the POWs were left, locked in the boxcar, hoping that a bomb wouldn't fall on them. They survived the shelling, but remained locked in the dark car for fourteen days with one one bucket of dehydrated cabbage soup to eat, and another bucket to use as a toilet. Two of the sixty didn't make it out of the boxcar alive.

On another transfer from camp to camp, the Nazis forced the prisoners to march for twelve days through woods, again with almost nothing to eat. Guard dogs nipped at the heels of those who couldn't go fast enough. Dale slipped away on one occasion, only to be tracked down by German police dogs the next morning, while hiding in a haystack. One other time, Dale took two others along also, but the dogs tracked them down again.

Since the Germans had little food for themselves near the end of the war, that meant there was next to nothing to give the prisoners to eat. More dehydrated cabbage soup. Dale was down to 100 pounds by the time General Patton came riding into camp, liberating the prisoners. Just down the road was Dachau, the concentration camp, where Dale saw just how brutal the Nazi regime really was.

Dale kept track of the six other crew members who made it through the war. One man died only a year after the German surrender, likely from complications of disease contracted in a POW camp. The rest died one at a time, the final two within the past year. That leaves Dale as the last member of the crew.

For more than sixty years, Dale was been affected by post-traumatic stress syndrome. Only lately has he had the opportunity for counseling which has helped him greatly. "Now the tears roll, but I don't mind talking about it," he said.

At age 83, Dale is one of a number of young men and women who suffered greatly in service to their country. When I talked to Dale today, tears were plentiful. I didn't want him to cry, but that was the only way he could talk. It was as if pure emotion kept leaping from his body, even when the words were quiet and few.

I have to admit that I admire Dale for the courage he showed back in 1944 and the courage he shows in 2006. He knows his time remaining is short, but he's coming to terms with it all.

Although he was drafted, Dale was proud to serve his country. For all his efforts, he has twelve medals, including a couple of purple hearts. He doesn't wear them, or even get them out to look at them. He told me, "If I'd put 'em all on, I'd look like Eisenhower!"

I don't have the courage to stand up for my country like Dale did. Luckily at my age I really don't have to. Mostly it's because I wonder if democracy is worth dying for, especially when I have spent the last month or two watching how incredibly ugly the American political system can get.

I have no real desire to give my life for Lord either, but if asked to do so, I surely would. I'm not going to go out and volunteer for the Martyr Squad, but being a pastor, if God becomes forbidden, I know I'll have a bullseye on my forehead. That's OK.

To all those who have served your country, I offer congratulations. For all those who have served my country, I offer my thanks.

Happy Veterans Day.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Christian Carnival CXLVII - The Election Hangover Edition

Hello, my fellow citizens!

This edition of the Christian Carnival is being published right after Election Day here in the United States. For many of you, that wouldn't make a whole lot of difference, but for your humble host it means that I'm mighty tired. I was at the local Board of Elections last night and was doing all manner of other things political all day long. That is part of the reason this post is going up a bit late.

But that's also the reason why this Christian Carnival has been dubbed "The Election Hangover Edition." So don't go looking for snappy banter or wise observations in this post -- go visit the contributor's blogs, as most of them got more sleep than I did last night!

Since there is a campaign-ish theme this week, I've divided up the posts into three categories.

First up are the campaign signs. Too small to be billboards, too large to wear on your lapel, these signs are typically driven into the ground to give the candidate a cheap form of advertising and the landowner a chance to display his or her opinions and affiliations. But the problem with campaign signs is that you don't get much in-depth information -- just a pithy message to remember. Here are a few pithy posts with a messages worth remembering.

Penitens from A Penitent Blogger kicks things off this week, and despite the title it's not as political as you would think. Instead we have a reflection on our need to get out of our "ruts" to bring people to Christ in Beat the Bushes.

At Everyday Liturgy, Dan provides a discussion of Scott McKnight's book Jesus Creed and the daily liturgical implications of the book in the post, Jesus Creed.

GodBlogCon finished up this weekend with bloggers from coast to coast gathering for a good time and, perhaps, some learning. Andrew McKnight from Mere Orthodoxy has this observation, Somehow politics don’t depress Mr. Hewitt. Jack Yoest presents Montaigne's Advice from Hugh Hewitt via Mere Orthodoxy posted at Reasoned Audacity.

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership is the entry from Richard at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos theophilos where he discusses the present need for persistent prayer.

Stephen Blankenship presents The Struggle of Love posted at S.R. Blankenship.

Cell Phone Devotionals! Mick from the Romans 15:4 Project tells us all about them.

A few thoughts about Job and his sacrifices at veracity-theway.

Next we find the campaign commercial. Dreaded by many as one-sided, shallow and simply annoying, the political ad is often overlooked because of its misuse by mud-slinging office-seekers. But 30 seconds worth of audio and video, properly used, can give a fuller and better explanation of an position or an opinion. These posts are more than simply devotionals and are well worth your thoughtful consideration.

In Baseball Rules and Bible Study, Henry Neufeld Uses baseball rules and their application as a metaphor for Bible study at the Participatory Bible Study Blog.

Meanwhile at Light Along the Journey, John notes that we all face choices, in all kinds of circumstances. In The Choice in Suffering, he explores one of the most important choices we all face.

Diane at Crossroads asks, Is Christianity like the rest of American society going over to right-brained theology and leaving the left-brained behind? Her post is entitled, Left-brained, Right-brained or Hare-brained?

servant presents How To Double Your Christian Business Or Ministry With One Hour Of Work posted at The Christian Billboard.

Dr. Platypus shares a Litany of the Saints.

Barbara from Tidbits and Treasures says that to those of us who live in the West, we consider the cross on a chain a piece of jewelry. But, to those Christians in the Muslim countries, it symbolizes the persecution and martyrdom they have had to endure for centuries. Read Non-Western Christians and the Cross.

What I Learned Teaching Sunday School is one of the better blog names I've heard for a while. Nancy shares with us this week about Christian Love -- A Choice, not a Feeling.

NCN presents Kids and Money: Chores and Allowance posted at No Credit Needed.

More on Ted Haggard from David Ker, who presents If anyone is caught in sin posted at Lingamish.

Dave from Every Thought Captive says that many bloggers are sure they know what the fallout from the Ted Haggard story will be. How do they know already? Read The Haggard Fallout.

Martin from Sun and Shield writes, "My entry for this week is "Why I Plan to Vote," in which I respond to a post in the previous Christian Carnival. I attempt to argue, from scripture and Christian principles, that Christians generally have a duty to vote responsibly. I don't deal with any particular issues, parties, or candidates."

In the same vein, Chris of Welcome to the Fallout presents A disappointed conservative-libertarian muses about pulling the lever in Four More Years?

Finally we come to the campaign literature. Think of them as the political equivalent of detailed tracts, passed out to try to convert people to the candidate's way of thinking. A more detailed explanation is available through this medium, and it is best when addressing a series of issues or one very complicated matter. These posts deal with more than one topic or are a bit more complex, but worth the effort.

Let's begin with a complicated matter indeed -- courtship. As many Christian families pursue a courtship model for their young adults, are we trying to make something messy and wonderful, namely love and marriage, into a set of legalistic and authoritarian rules that we can follow to ensure that our children achieve the "right outcome," namely a good and God-honoring marriage? Sherry at Intellectuelle take that one on in What Is Courtship and Does Anyone Know How To Do It Right?

And while we're on the subject of relationships, William Meisheid presents True Relationships (aka Friendships) posted at Beyond The Rim... .

Vynette Holliday sets out to disprove not only the divinity of Christ, but the doctine of the Trinity. Personally, I think her argument is dead wrong. See what you think about The Messiah of the Prophets : Part 1 posted at The Race is Run.

Mark Olson shares his notes on the first session of a Genesis Bible Study in Reflections on Genesis: Chapter 1 posted at Pseudo-Polymath.

JCHFleetguy of Brain Cramps for God has three angles to the Ted Haggard situation in Overview: Three Posts Coming.

Michael from Chasing the Wind has some thoughts on five exhortations from the book of Hebrews on living the Christian life in Exercise Confidence.

Allow me to toss in two late posts. (Think of them as absentee ballots, OK?) The first one I had read earlier at Parableman, and I'm glad Jeremy wanted to submit it. What doubles the effect of this post is the discussion in the comment section of Christians Reaching Out to Neo-Pagans.

And finally, The Idolatry of Political Christianity is submitted by Jordan at the Acton Institute Powerblog. The post takes on the urge to tie Christianity to a political ideology and is worth your time to check out.

And that will do it for #147. Thank you to all your submitters (and you know who you are). It's rather a shame no one wanted to submit a post on election this week. Oh, well.

I wish you all an additional term in office.

Christian Carnival - Election Hangover Edition - Coming Soon!

I love hosting the Christian Carnival. It gives me a chance to be creative and have some fun. However, I didn't think too much when I agreed on the date I would host. It was election day, and I spent much of the day working at the local election board. And I've had it.

As a result, the Carnival won't be posted until Wednesday sometime (think P.M., not A.M.). I've got to get some sleep and try to digest the lousy food I snacked on all night.

My apologies to those who just can't wait to see this week's edition. Just think of it as being like waiting for the late election returns to come in from the remote sections of the country.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Slumber Party Affair

It was going to be a big night on so many levels. It was my daughter's fifth birthday party, complete with six friends, a dozen or so relatives, a few zillion presents and a cake in the shape of a princess' castle. (That's the cake above.) And the girl was so excited, she was literally bouncing. Every two minutes she asked when the party was going to start. And every two minutes either Mama or Dad would grab a hold of her, stop her from bouncing, and tell her, "In a little while, dear."

But it wasn't simply the cake and the presents and the houseful of people that had my darling daughter doing her impression of an NBA basketball. It was the fact that her best friend, Katie, was going to sleep over after the party.

Up until now, my little girl has had "sleepovers" but only with older kids -- her brothers or family friends. This was going to be the real thing. A fellow five-year-old would sleep over. And the prospect of the whole affair kept my daughter in vertical motion all day long.

After all the friends and relatives had been herded back to their respective vehicles, my daughter and Katie settled into the evening routine. First there was playing to do, then a change in pajamas, then settling into sleeping bags to watch a movie.

But around the halfway mark of the movie, Katie started getting that teary look in her eyes. Of course she had never spent the night away from home before, and now it looked like she wasn't going to break her record. Soon we had to call Katie's mom to come pick her up.

My daughter was crushed. While Katie was sitting on the floor waiting for her ride, my little girl was clinging to my wife, tears rolling down her cheeks. When Katie's mom arrived, the tears were coming in loud sobs. She cried so hard that her nose started to bleed a little and her stomach was approaching full evacuation mode. It took another hour until she was calm enough to fall asleep.

We explained to our little girl that Katie wasn't going home to be mean, but because she was scared without her mommy around. But my daughter's feelings had been hurt. She was disappointed in her friend, and felt rejected. She woke up the next day feeling fine, but she still feels badly about the whole slumber party affair.

My girl is going to have to learn that people are going disappoint her. I know I've been let down by a whole host of folks. For that matter, I've been the one disappointing others on far too many occasions. We sinful people tend to let people down.

I remember the disappointment in the Christian community when Amy Grant divorced her husband to marry Vince Gill. I know all about similar disappointments in several others from Jim Bakker to Sandi Patty. And I hear that same feeling of being let down every time a pastor has to leave a church because he can't fulfill the whole monogamy thing.

I hate it when I let people down. Too often I don't follow through on my promises. I become a lousy witness because of my own thoughtlessness. And I don't even want to get into all the times I disappoint my wife or my kids.

I wonder what it was like for Simon Peter when he saw Jesus roasting a little fish on the shore. He jumped off the boat, he was so excited to see the risen Savior. But still there was that whole business of denial. He had let his Master down after he had sworn up and down that it would never happen.

How often I too let my Savior down. I wonder if the tears roll down his cheek after I rebel against Him and try to satisfy my own selfish desires. Well, maybe there are no tears, but I've let Him down anyway.

Thankfully, my Savior never lets me down. Even when He crosses me up and delivers something I don't expect, my disappointment is rooted in my own selfishness. I have no business being disappointed in Him, for He knows what He is doing. It's just that sometimes I don't. And I sit there, bawling my eyes out, thinking He has let me down, not realizing that my lack of faith has let Him down.

Oh, to be able to praise Him in times of despair and uncertainty, like Paul and Silas singing praise choruses in the Philippi Detention Center... to be able to work past my tears and appreciate all that I have been given.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Jennifer had this on her blog, and since I haven't stolen anything from her in quite some time, I thought this would be a good opportunity.

Which of these 100 things have you done? I've marked the ones I've done in RED.
01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone (At least I think there were candles.)
08. Said “I love you’ and meant it!
09. Hugged a tree (But I didn't mean it!)
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights (At my house!)
15. Gone to a huge sports game (Regular season, but it was the Super Bowl Champs!)
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa (How about leaned after climbing stairs?)
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper (Oh, yeah. More than I care to remember.)
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
(It wasn't a long trip, but it was about 7 miles.)
22. Watched a meteor shower (And was a little disappointed in it.)
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity (No, I can always afford to give more.)
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
(While working as a radio announcer giving the agricultural weather report. My boss wasn't happy.)
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger (I went on a date with a stranger. Doesn't that count?)
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster

35. Hit a home run (But it's been an awfully long time ago!)
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment

39. Visited all 50 states
40. Taken care of someone who was drunk
41. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
42. Watched wild whales
43. Stolen a sign (I actually didn't steal it, but I had it in my possession for about a year.)
44. Backpacked in Europe
45. Taken a road-trip
46. Gone rock climbing
47. Lost over 20 pounds (Shoot, I've lost 20 pounds most every year of my life. Gained even more!)
48. Midnight walk on the beach
49. Gone sky diving (We chickened out back in college.)
50. Taken a train through Europe
51. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
52. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table, and had a meal with them
53. Milked a cow
54. Alphabetized your CDs (That's the way they are supposed to be!)
55. Sung karaoke
56. Lounged around in bed all day
57. Gone scuba diving
58. Kissed in the rain (Not as romantic as it looks in the movies.)
59. Gone to a drive-in theatre
60. Started a business
61. Taken a martial arts class
62. Been in a movie (Just a couple of "student" productions.)
63. Crashed a party
64. Gone without food for 5 days (ARE YOU KIDDING ME??)
65. Gotten a tattoo
66. Got flowers for no reason (Gave flowers for no reason. All the time.)
67. Performed on stage (That's been a few years ago too.)
68. Been to Las Vegas
69. Recorded music
70. Eaten shark
71. Buried one/both of your parents (both)
72. Been on a cruise ship
73. Spoken more than one language fluently
74. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over (Of course losing my job had something to do with it!)
75. Been to the Statue of Liberty
76. Had plastic surgery
77. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
78. Wrote articles for a large publication (Not a really large one, but lots of small ones!)
79. Piloted an airplane
80. Petted a stingray
81. Broken someone’s heart (Not to my knowledge.)
82. Broken a bone
83. Eaten sushi
84. Had your picture in the newspaper (Yes, but not as often as my kids.)
85. Parasailed
86. Skipped all your school reunions
87. Shaved your head (Not yet, but as soon as my wife's back is turned it'll happen.)
88. Caused a car accident
89. Pretended to be "sick" (Pretended to be sicker than I actually was.)
90. Surfed in the ocean
91. Saved someone's life
92. Fainted (No, but I've been knocked out.)
93. Been in the room while someone is giving birth (Four times)
94. Hitchhiked (Not exactly, but I've been given rides by strangers on the highway.)
95. Adopted a child (Been adopted.)
96. Been caught daydreaming (Huh?)
97. Been to the Grand Canyon
98. Called off a wedding engagement
99. Donated your blood (I did last month for the first time in about 15 years.)
100. Become a follower of Jesus Christ (Best decision I ever made.)

Throughout this exercise, I was reminded of just how precious life is, and of how many incredible experiences we have along the way. I can kind of understand why some get so wrapped up in the earthly life that they put the thoughts of an afterlife in the back of their minds. God has given us so much on this ol' sin-soaked earth. Just imagine what we'll be able to compare notes about in heaven!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Drug Test

In what could be one of my foolish decisions, I've taken on yet another part time job. This one is supposed to demand my attention only a couple of times a month, so I'm taking the chance that I'll be able to fit everything into one lifetime.

My new job requires that I undergo a drug screen. So last week, I studied and studied and went to take my drug test. What struck me was the procedures that had to be followed for it to be officially done right.

After I did the initial paperwork, on which every medical facility is fueled, I was led back to the testing area by a medical professional. In the room was a woman who was having some hair snipped from the back of her head. It could have been some kind of medical test, or maybe she just needed a trim, I don't know. I was pretty sure that I didn't have enough hair on my own head for any testing, so I was going to have to do it the old fashioned way.

My coat was taken and laid back in a corner. I was asked to empty my pockets and place the contents into a small lockable cabinet. Feeling lighter, stepped back to the nurse who then instructed me to rinse my hands without using soap. Then she gave me the choice of which cup I would like to use. Seeing no difference in the two, I closed my eyes and picked the one that my hand hit first. The nurse unwrapped it and showed me that there were no cracks in it. From her mannerisms, I was half expecting some sleight of hand. Maybe pull a dove out of the specimin cup. But no. She handed my the cup and began the test.

No number 2 pencils needed for this one.

Emerging from the restroom, I presented the now-full cup to the nurse and prepared to get my things out of the locker. But no. I had to stand there and watch her "grade my test", so to speak. She explained how it worked, as if I was going to test the next guy who walked in, carefully showing me every last detail.

Finally, the little boxes turned blue. Knowing that it wasn't a pregnancy test, I was now assured that I was drug-free. (Three hours of my time and about $20 worth of gas spent to find that one out.)

As I strapped into the pickup for the drive home, I considered all the extraneous activity surrounding the test. I knew full well that the reason why the procedure had to be followed was because there have been so many people who have tried to cheat. Although I hate to think about it, some folks have apparently tried to sneak in a "clean" sample while giving the impression it was their own. The thought makes me want to wash out my pockets.

Why do people cheat? Because they know that a test will show the truth about what they've been putting into their bodies. They fully understand that when the light of truth is shown on their lives (or specimins, as the case may be), the nasty stuff will show up as bright as day.

I think most people understand that any real examination of their lives will show some problems. Sure, there are some who try to redefine certain actions as good and right, and a few of those have fooled themselves into believing it. But most everyone understands the lack of perfection in their lives. If there would be a test to show the presence of sin, they know the squares won't show up the right color.

The solution isn't to try to cover up the impurities or to justify the presence of nasty stuff by pointing to everyone else. The solution is to use someone else's sample.

"Thank you, Lord Jesus, for allowing me to use your perfect record instead of my own tainted life."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Emo Illustration

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said,
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?"
He said, "Religious."
I said, "Me too! Are you christian or buddhist?"
He said, "Christian."
I said, "Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me too! Are you episcopalian or baptist?"
He said, "Baptist!"
I said,"Wow! Me too! Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?"
He said, "Baptist church of god!"
I said, "Me too! Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?"
He said,"Reformed Baptist church of god!"
I said, "Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?"
He said, "Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!"
I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off. -- Emo Phillips

I was just called a heretic tonight over something I wrote at my Bible study blog a few months ago. Apparently I wasn't Calvinist enough. The commenter has something like 15 blogs, all taking on one heresy or another. One was entitled, Arminian Heresy, and once I saw that I didn't worry too much about what he thought.

Not that there is no such thing as heresy. Another of his blogs was about the heresies of the Watchtower Organization. Another was about Mormonism. But it seemed that, like Emo above, he wanted every last belief to be exactly as he saw it... or else.

I think there are some essential beliefs, but there are also doctrines that really don't qualify as "dealbreakers" so far as I can see. I may believe in 5-point Calvinism or 0-point Calvinism or Calvinism by a field goal on Monday Night Football, but it seems to me that crying heresy because someone else doesn't match all five TULIP points is a bit over the top.

My denomination is one of the few that doesn't draw a lot of doctrinal lines past the basics. I really like that. I have my own opinions about baptism, but if a brother has a different belief, I'm not out to push him off a bridge, yelling, "Die, heretic scum!" For that matter, I'm not about to push a Jehovah's Witness off that bridge with the same shout either, yet I cannot consider his beliefs to be either correct or orthodox.

Of course the trend lately in the church is to go the other way... to whittle down the list of essentials to the point where it's basically just using the term "God" and everything is OK. I think that's foolish nonsense, but by the same token I'm not about to disassociate someone based on doctrinal beliefs. I'm not going to compromise my own understanding either, but it's the anti-Christ-like (if you'll pardon the expression) shout of "HERESY!" which really makes me feel sad for those who settle on one understand without thinking that God can be much more than we can take in.

All the commenter said was "HERESY!" No explanation of what or why or where or when or any other word starting with a "w". No, "Come let us reason together" or anything like it. Just a war whoop and a condemnation hurled over the wall.

I think most people I deal with understand what I believe and why. I think most also realize that I'm not going to push them off a bridge due to denominational differences. But they know that I'm open to talking about all those matters.

At least I think that's what they understand.

"Lord, help me to stand for you in an uncompromising way, yet still show the love as You showed it."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Revisiting... Walking Through the Graveyard

I was thinking about this post and decided to "dig it up" and run it again. When I do this kind of thing, I become aware of some of the common themes in my writing. It all kind of ties together sometimes. I hope you enjoy this post from about 18 months ago.

I found myself in my old hometown yesterday. I don't get there much anymore and usually when I get there I'm in too big of a hurry to look around. But yesterday I had a little time and an urge to look around. Eventually I found myself in the cemetery of this town of a thousand residents. I remember walking around there as a kid, sometimes as part of a geneology project and other times just looking around. Yesterday though, became a kind of walk through my childhood. I visited the graves of many people whom I may or may not see in heaven, but I remember them in life. I saw the grave of my elementary and middle school principal. Across the path was my grandfather's burial site and the grave of my aunt who died at the age of five months.

As I walked, I became aware of so many people who had passed to the back burner of my mind. The guy who ran the meat packing store. The lady who worked at the bank. My uncle's dad. One of my good friends from elementary school. A lady who used to drive my bus. Plenty of other relatives, including some I never really met.

As I walked, I realized there was one grave I'd never visited but had to be out there somewhere. She was my first "girlfriend." (We were in kindergarten -- how "in love" could we be?) We were good friends all through school. I had a crush on her on and off for years. She was a big encouragement to me, helping me to develop some confidence. During our senior year, we each took short trips to visit some colleges. I went with three other guys and we had fun over the next three days, seeing four different campuses in addition to downtown Indianapolis at night. She started off for a campus visit with a friend in a VW beetle about the color of a yellow tennis ball. The two of them drove about 30 minutes to the Interstate, then as they tried to merge into traffic an 18-wheeler all but crushed the beetle. My friend was taken to the hospital in a coma.

I visited her in the hospital many times. We were encouraged to talk to her, as the nurses kept saying that she heard what we said. When I went off to college about nine months later, she was still on my mind but I stopped visiting. I felt like my presence was causing her mother so much pain, hearing about the things her daughter should be doing. I kept praying.

She finally died in 2001, shortly after the Twin Towers fell. She had been in a coma for 22 years. Her parents had cared for her the entire time. She had spent some time in various hospitals but eventually was brought home where she was cared for by her loving parents year after year. When I saw her again in the casket, I would have never recognized her. She looked nothing like her old pictures.

While pacing around the cemetery yesterday, I finally found her grave. There was a beautiful stone with her senior picture etched into it. On the reverse was a beautiful quote from St. Francis. Then I looked to the right and saw another stone with the same last name. It was for her parents. Her father was still alive, but I had forgotten that her mother has passed away almost a year later. She had given so much of her life to care for her daughter that her health was horrible and her heart was broken. As I looked at the stones together I thought to myself, "This is the way we were taught to live." We're called not to live selfishly, but to live to love God completely and to love others as ourselves. My friend's mother had not wasted her life caring for 22 years for a daughter in a coma. She had followed scriptural instructions of caring for her daughter.

I often wonder what my friend was going through in those 22 years. Would she have preferred death? Should it matter if she did? Is it God's decision to take life or ours? I pray that God was able to do some incredible things for her during that time. I am positive he did not desert her.

A friend asked me about the Terri Schiavo case. He wanted to know why people wanted her to be starved to death, or why they wanted her dead, period. My best guess is that we see ourselves in the face of the less fortunate. In our limited understanding, all we see is a body driven by very little mind. We see that someone like Terri is not in control of anything; she is at the mercy of others. When many people see themselves in that situation, their reaction is fear. They fear living in a debilitated state. They fear not having control. They fear it so much that death seems preferable. And what an interesting choice that becomes for the non-believer. They would rather take the uncertainty of death over the observed certainty of living a life out of their control. Isn't that an amazing statement about the incredibly strong drive of self? But if a decision to remove a feeding tube becomes a personal fight to be able to retain control of one's life, it ceases to be about life itself. . . only about self.

I don't pretend to know everyone's motivations for their opinions. I only present what I've seen in observing some people. My conclusions aren't meant to broad-brush, but to help me understand this whole case better. I certainly feel for my friend's mother and father. At the same time I also have great admiration for them. I also greatly admire Henri Nouwen, who gave up his university teaching position to care for people who couldn't care for themselves. Yet I also understand the pull of selfishness, in not wanting to give our lives to serve others. Still I know what the Bible tells us to do for other people and I know how dangerous selfish desires can be to my relationship with my Creator and Savior.

God has allowed this stuff to perkolate in my mind since I first drove into the graveyard yesterday. And I think I am even more grateful for the gift of life, yet more aware that my life is not my own. I have been bought with a price. My undying praise and thanks to the One who bought me, and thanks as well for continuing to shape me into His image.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Horsin' Around

Well, it's been a number of months, but we're equine owners again! He's been with us for a month now, so it looks like he's staying. This is our new addition to the family. His name is "Mister". Actually his name is long and complicated and doesn't even contain the word "Mister", but that's what my wife has decided to call him. And since she'll be doing most of the work, she gets to name him.

Faithful readers (also known as people with too much time on their hands) will remember that we lost our little grey Welsh pony back in March after spending eight years with him. This month, my wife culminated her horse shopping experience by picking up this quarter horse for more than a few quarters.

Mister is bigger than Cracker Jack was. He is a different color. He also has a much different temperment. Where Cracker was more like a dog, following us around the pasture, Mister is a real handful on the ground. He is much more interested in the green grass surrounding him than in anything I have to tell him.

Then again, Mister loves to be ridden. He just hates to be led around. He wants to be put to good use -- whether walking my daughter around the yard or galloping down the fence row with my wife urging him to go faster. In his mind, it's: "Carrying someone on my back is good, being led around is bad".

I'm just kinda thinking here, but isn't it interesting that most people would reverse those twp things. We would prefer to be led from place to place, being shown what to do, rather than carrying the load ourselves. It's much easier to have someone lay out all the instructions than to take up our cross or be an example to others.

Horses are working animals. People (the smarter of the two) depend upon horses to do specific tasks. Horses are effective tools when they are being used by a good horseman.

We too are to be effective tools. We are to be used my God (again, the smarter of the two) to do specific tasks, which Scripture says have been laid out for us to do since before the foundation of the world was laid.

Maybe horses are actually the smart ones.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Devil's Sharpest Tool

It seems like the Devil's best tool against us gazes at us from our mirrors each day.

When it comes to a Christian walk, I am my own worst enemy.

Is there anything that we do (aside from our pure worship of God) that isn't deeply rooted in selfishness? Go ahead. Think of something you do that doesn't involve indulging yourself. I'll wait.

Find something? I couldn't.

The more we are fixated on self, the further from God we become.

I don't think I'm being cynical when I say that most of the supposed "good deeds" we do are rooted in selfishness. Yes, even the time spent helping someone, or being nice to someone who isn't all that nice. Dropping coins in the kettle for the Salvation Army or giving blood can also be outgrowths of our own selfishness.

Maybe it's just me, but I know plenty of people who are nice to someone just for the good feeling of helping someone else. They give gifts for the tax deduction or donate clothes because they are too lazy to have a garage sale. That's not selfless. That's just the opposite. "That good feeling inside" is the motivator. The deduction is the motivator. The laziness and a need to clean out the closet is the motivator. It's not the fact that someone else is helped. Can those two things be separated? Sure. It's your motive.

If I am driving somewhere and I see a vehicle in trouble, I will usually stop and try to help. I do this despite the fact that I am nowhere near a mechanical genius. The reason I stop is because I developed that habit in early adulthood. Back then, my car was a not-so-gently-used vehicle, and I often found myself on the side of a road in need of assistance. I figured that if I saw someone who could use my help, then I should help. After all, the roles could very easily be reversed the next week!

So my pure motives for stopping are not so pure.

How many generous donations to universities or hospitals or charities come with strings attached? Why are wings of buildings or stadiums or awards named after individuals? Because quite often putting that name on the building is a stipulation of the gift. That generosity isn't so pure either.

Let's face it, even in our Christian walk we are tempted to be selfish. At Attention Span I've often detailed situations where churches are split apart because of a power struggle between groups of people. There's the woman who sings a special song in worship to draw attention to herself, instead of deflecting the praise to God. There is the man who serves on the board so faithfully because of the power it gives him. There are the Sunday School teachers who teach because they like to be looked up to. There are the pew fillers who show up for services so they look pious to other people.

Selfishness is like a pair of handcuffs which keep us from being very effective. The Devil makes sure our wrists are bound each day.

Of course, Christ has the key to the cuffs.

"Lord, help me to die to self every single day... in my work, in my family, and especially in my relationship with You."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

In Appreciation

I don't know how anyone can be a head coach. Sure, I understand the love of the game. I understand about working with young players and molding them to be better men and women. But for every coach, there is an entire herd of people who could do a better job of coaching -- just ask them!

I remember my Grandpa. He was a big Dodger fan, and a big fan of the local high school basketball team. But he wasn't a big fan of the coaches. You may not realize this, but my Grandpa could outcoach the legendary Tommy Lasorda AND call the shots better than a high school basketball coach with more than 700 career victories. He told me so.

"What is that coach doing? I can coach better than that!"

I couldn't tell you how many times I heard him say that. And my Grandpa wasn't unique. Every coach has his or her detractors. Lose and game, and people immediately start asking for your replacement. One mistake and some folks will never let you forget it. Two mistakes and you're the most worthless person walking God's green earth.

If the team finishes the season 4-12, the coach should be canned. Never mind that half the players are hurt and the other half have no experience. Forget that pesky little detail that the players aren't really very good. Fire the coach!

Of course, a few coaches reach untouchable status over time. But even the untouchable coaches have had to deal with the occasional moron who thought themselves to be much brighter than they actually were.

A coach with a mediocre team is never appreciated. A coach with a great team usually doesn't get any credit for the team's success. And pity the poor coach who ends the season 4-12. Or worse.

And don't even get me started on how unappreciated the referees and umpires are. Somebody's got to make the calls. But, oh the abuse those poor people take!

There are many times when I don't feel especially appreciated. In my secular job, I could make 10,000 decisions flawlessly, but when I make that inevitable mistake... well, let's just say that people immediately and repeatedly let me know all about it.

As a husband, I know I am sometimes taken for granted -- just as I sometimes take my wife for granted. Man, I hate it when I'm just as guilty as she is.

Maybe the role in life where I feel the most appreciated is as a pastor. I know that people in my congregation will specifically seek me out to tell me that they appreciate a sermon or a visit or a prayer. And I'll admit that even though I am not a pastor so that people will appreciate what I do, it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like God is using what I am doing. God can work though this twisted and bloated mess of flesh and bone and sin that I am.

Wouldn't it be a good idea if we all told someone how much we appreciate what that person does? It would be great to feel that rush of encouraging another person. Even if that person doesn't seem to appreciate the effort, we could still give that encouragement. Isn't it odd that we would think we should be shown some appreciation for showing someone else some appreciation?

Or maybe it's just all about learning how to be selfless. I want to be able to do my best or to do what is right without the need for approval. I should be able to give money to a good ministry without wondering how to get a proper receipt for a tax credit. I should be able to volunteer my time without wondering what I'll be getting back in return.

If I donate money to my local PBS station during the pledge drive (which lasts around 360 days each year), the station will send me a gift of appreciation. Maybe it's a DVD or a CD of whatever concert the pledge drive is interrupting. Maybe it's a stuffed Barney toy. Whatever. If I truly appreciate what that PBS station is broadcasting, why would I need a gift to show appreciation for my own appreciation?

One last thought: If we really want to show our appreciation, shouldn't we start with our Creator? Like it or not, everything we have comes from Him. I certainly appreciate that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


He sat there with a sad, yet nervous expression on his face. I understood the emotions, you see, Randy is a pastor.

Randy was talking with the editor of the local newspaper. He arranged the meeting because of calls which had been made to the newspaper's staff. Apparently some people at Randy's church are very, very bitter.

The editor told Randy that on two recent occasions, he had received calls suggesting that the paper send a reporter to see and expose the horrible things going on at Cross Church. What horrible things, you ask? The callers apparently wouldn't say, nor would they leave a name.

Most papers these days won't print a letter to the editor if the author doesn't have the guts to sign it. That policy makes sense, really. After all, if you won't stand by your words enough to put your name to them, what real value do they have? I know all about the idea of protecting identities, as most of us do on the web, but a public forum isn't for people wearing disguises.

Anyway, the editor reported that he had received a third call over the weekend. This anonymous caller suggested that there was a situation at Cross Church that was just like the situation at another local church. The "other church" the caller referenced had just fired a youth pastor who had been having sexual relationships with two girls from his youth group. That call startled the editor, but it really startled Randy. And if you think it startled Randy, you can only imagine what it did to Randy's youth pastor!

There is no youth pastor seducing underage girls at Cross Church. There is no scandal worthy of a newspaper expose at Cross Church. So why the phone calls?

There are a group of mostly older church folks who don't like the fact that Cross Church has added a contemporary service. That's it. Oh, the horror! A handful of people are becoming quite a handful, and it looks like at least two have taken to insinuating that the church is scandal-plagued because the church is offering a service without The Old Rugged Cross played on a pipe organ. It's not as if Cross Church isn't still offering the traditional hymn/pass the plate/long sermon/closing hymn service. The complainers still have their service untouched. They object to (1) having a second service, and/or (2) the worship style.

Friends, that's just bitterness that has taken these "fine upstanding, mature saints" and turned them into nasty, vindictive, lying embarassments to God.

I've known plenty of people who have changed churches due to pastoral failings or disagreements of buildings or gossip within the congregation or any number of other reasons. Of those people, some are sincerely praying for their former church, their former pastor, and former fellow parishoners. Then there are others whose live is filled with bitterness.

Plenty of people have been burned by the church -- or more correctly, it's people. Still, through the hurt, they are not burdened by the bitter feelings or the desire for vengeance. They are able to look down from their own crosses at those who have caused the pain to say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Then there are those who are more concerned with their own power and position within the congregation than anything else. Some are protective of such trivial things as the order of service. Others will fight to the spiritual death to keep pews in the sanctuary instead of folding or stacking chairs. And, of course, there are plenty who will enforce their own rules of who should be in "their" church and who should not. God help the person who visits that church with the faint odor of cigarettes or with a reputation that doesn't measure up to these bitter, misguided churchgoers.

That's a big problem in the church today -- more people are too concerned about their religion and yet are completely unconcerned with their faith. I wish the anonymous phone callers would take a time out from their cardiac arrest over the presence of a tamborine in the sanctuary and realize that. But I'm not holding out much hope.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mark of the Beast

Time was running close. The kids program at church was less than an hour away, and I still had to pick up my oldest boy from high school football practice. My wife and daughter had been working all day in preparation for the new horse, coming this weekend. Handing me two empty feed bags, my beloved asked me to take them to the burn barrels where we get rid of some of our trash.

It was a short walk to the back of the yard, right along a ditch. In the eight years we've lived here, I've taken that walk countless times. Today it was different.

Earlier this week, I had cleaned out the barrels and got rid of a bunch of trash. When I reached the trash cans, I couldn't see the bottom of the cans or the thin layer of goo on the bottom. What I saw when I glanced at the can was what appeared to be a cat. I knew that our one outdoor cat was up by the house, so I was a bit confused. Then I took a closer look. It was mostly black. But there was this troublesome white pattern on its back.

This was not a cat. This was Pepe LePew's younger cousin. A real life skunk.

Now I'm a country boy. I've happened upon all kinds of wild animals in my life. But I've never stumbled across a live skunk in the wild. I've stumbled across plenty of dead skunks. Those are usually pretty easy to notice from half a mile away. But this one was not lying between the dotted yellow lines on the crown of the asphault. This one was looking up at me with tiny black eyes, as shocked seeing me as I was seeing it.

What did I do? I ran. I'm not ashamed to say it.

I wasn't afraid of old Stinky leaping out of the barrel, onto my neck and ripping out my jugular. I was pretty sure the skunk wasn't going to jump on my leg and chew it to bits. But I was afraid that Mr. LePew was going to turn and fire, and that I would be forced to call off Wednesday night kids church because of fumes.

The two bags I was carrying ended up on the ground. I ended up doing my best Carl Lewis impression and made it back to the house without so much as a bit of body odor. I avoided what I knew I had to avoid. I've had dogs who met up with skunks who didn't turn and run. I've tried to kill that smell with tomato juice and countless other home stench remedies. My fear was not a physical attack. My fear was being a marked man. That smell doesn't go away easily.

Whenever I hear someone hypothesizing about the "mark of the beast", I usually either turn away or I catch myself daydreaming about something else. Because from what I read in Revelation, the mark of the beast is contrasted with the mark of the lamb. I've never heard anyone boldly predict what the mark of the lamb may be. Perhaps because the mark of the lamb (and most likely the mark of the beast as well) are not visible marks, but invisible signs of our personal choice of what to do with Jesus Christ.

I've been "marked" by Jesus, yet there are still times when it seems like the smell has worn off, to coin a phrase. I just don't smell enough like Christ. One day last week, a person really inflated my ego, telling me that I appeared to act a lot like Christ. Later that afternoon, I said something I shouldn't have said in an offhanded way, and the person I said it to expressed surprise that those words had come from my mouth. I had "blown my witness" in the blink of an eye. It was like the "smell" of Christ had been doused with some kind of super-charged Odor-Eaters.

I want to bear the marks of Jesus Christ. Yet I find that it only takes an instant for me to take on the marks making me resemble the rest of the world. It's not often that I'm swift enough to avoid being sprayed by the stench of sinfulness. Skunks I can outrun. Sin is another matter.

Lord, give me Your strength. Change my heart so that my life will be marked by You.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Wind Chasing

"Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless."

What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?

Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,
"Look! This is something new"?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow.

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-14

I often find myself wondering about the way I spend my time. I'm pretty sure I don't make the best use of my time. And I'm not even sure that spending time wondering about the way I spend my time is a great way to spend my time. But now I'm confused. But I'll continue.

A lot of bloggers eventually write a few posts about whether it blogging is a good use of one's time. This post is not one of those posts. Instead I'm thinking more about the other things in my life. Not the stuff that actually has some sort of value, but the stupid things I do. The picture to the right is not of me. It's actually some woman setting the world's record for... get this... underwater ironing. That's what I said. Read it again if you like. Un-der-wa-ter-i-ron-ing. This dear lady is at a depth of around 100 meters in scuba gear, with a folding ironing board, an iron and a mental deficiency.

Let's think about this for just a moment. (Again, it's probably not the best use of my time or your time, but humor me.) She is ironing. Underwater. Generally, that's not the best way to iron. When I actually iron something, I usually start with a mostly-dry item of clothing. I'm assuming the iron isn't plugged in somewhere, as I don't see a long orange extension cord, or any signs that the diver is being electricuted. Then, it appears that the diver is actually ironing -- a t-shirt! As I've told more than one person, if you're ironing t-shirts, you need to get yourself a hobby.

Putting it all together, it's ridiculous to think that a woman is actually diving the depth of a football field into the ocean to iron a t-shirt in the most ineffective way imaginable. It's perhaps even more ridiculous that a photographer bothered to dive down 100 meters to take a picture of this woman!

As easy as it is to make fun of Miss Underwater Ironer, I realize that I'm no better. I'm not as hard on myself as Solomon was. I don't buy into the whole "everything is meaningless" argument. The two days I spent wandering around the county fair this weekend was time spent with family and friends. The time blogging helps me explore my relationship with God. My time reading blogs does the same thing.

But there's the hour or two in front of the television set. Or playing a computer game. Or surfing You Tube to see what silliness has been documented for the whole DSL-Connection-or-faster-world to see. Am I making the best use of my time? Obviously not. Most of the time I'm doing my share of wind chasing.

Why is it that time-wasters are able to climb up the ladder of priority in my life? (and I'm assuming yours also). True, I'm not ironing t-shirts underwater, but by the same token, I don't know how to scuba dive. Shoot, I barely know how to iron!

I wonder where the right mix is. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," I've always heard. Of course, I've always heard that from people who don't want to work! I wonder just how much of my life I've wasted, chasing the wind.

Paul wrote that whatever we do, we are to do it to the best of our ability as though we are doing it for God. I'm not quite sure Paul was thinking about underwater ironing when he wrote that, but is there a place for diversion? Is diversion like so many other things in life -- good in moderation, bad in overindulgence?

All I know is that I don't make the best use of my time, and I don't believe God is always pleased with the way I spend my waking hours. That is something I must be praying about.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Family Tradition

I am very proud of my daddy's name
although his kinda music and mine ain't exactly the same
stop and think it over put yourself in my position
if i get stoned and sing all night long
it's a family tradition

Don't ask me Hank, why do you drink?
(Hank) why do you roll smoke?
Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?
If I'm down in a Honky-Tonk
Some ol' slicks tryin to give me corrections
I'll say leave me alone, I'm singin all night long
it's a family tradition.

(From Family Tradition by Hank Williams, Jr.)

Ol' Hank loves to pass off his rowdy ways on upholding the ways of his daddy. But I've been thinking about traditions lately, and I wonder how many are simply excuses, rationalizations and justifications.

I talked about tradition with a couple of different people yesterday. One man is carrying on the family tradition of making root beer and selling it at county fairs. His grandparents started doing it in 1939. His aunt got into the act in 1948. He helped out after his grandfather passed away in 1962, but didn't launch fully into the tradition until 1976. He's still making and selling the stuff, thirty years later, proudly carrying on the tradition begun by his grandfather almost 70 years before.

Another lady is county fair nut enthusiast. At the age of 77, she still is at the fair every hour that the grounds are open to the public. Why? Her family used to work there when she grew up. She and her sisters would open the gates in the morning, sell tickets for the amusements all day, then close the gates at night. "It was our fair," she told me. "It's still our fair. I just can't leave." Now that seems silly to most of us, but her family tradition has her latched to a parcel of land for seven straight days every year. And she loves every minute of it.

I also saw someone yesterday with a different family tradition. Actually, calling it a family tradition isn't exactly accurate. This boy, whom I will call James, never had a father and lost his mother at an early age. For most of his 16 years, James has been shuffled from temporary home to foster home to orphanage. His tradition is that there is no family, no one worth trusting. And sadly, James' tradition is that he can do as he wishes. If he does something wrong, the worst that will happen is a move to another foster home or shelter.

Back in March, James moved into another foster home. This one was working out well, and James told the couple that he wanted to stay with them. The next day he attacked his foster mother with a knife, stabbing her multiple times and even slashing the couple's 13-year-old daughter, who got away to call for help. The woman survived, and James is off to prison for 18 years.

As my wife and I talked about James, we wondered if James had been blessed with a good, stable family if he would have turned out the way he did. We'll never know, of course, but it sure seems like he would have had a better chance.

I cringe when I see parent of young kids out in public, cigarette in one hand, beer in the other, and obscenities written on their t-shirts. I see WAY too many of these, and I wonder what chance those kids have. Surely I'll see those kids in twenty years, talking and acting in the same fashion as their parents. Family tradition, right?

And then I thought about the one power that can break the tradition.

I was blessed incredibly with a great family while growing up. I was adopted as an infant, so I realize that my present life could be startlingly different than it is today. I accepted Christ early in life, so there was no huge turnaround story. It wasn't hard to accept Christ publically -- that was what was expected of me. Family tradition, if you will.

What was actually hard was doing more than walk the aisle to the altar. The hard part was putting feet to my faith and living out what I believe. That's still the hard part, you know?

But back to James... what was going to take him out of a childhood full of violence and crime? Sure the love of a mother and father can be big influences. But I know plenty of kids who have gone bad while growing up in a lovely home environment.

Let's face it. There is only one Way out. Whether He's pulling me away from daily temptations or whether he's pulling the violent kid toward a life of obedience to Christ, there is only one Way.

Family traditions aren't broken easily.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

I wonder when he figured out that something was wrong

Evangelist Dies Trying To Walk on Water: Pastor reportedly told congregation he could repeat miracle of Jesus

It's an actual news story, so I'm assuming it's actually true. Nothing would surprise me at this point.

Note: It's not a matter of having enough faith to do something to make yourself look cool.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pastoral Dominoes

That's twice this week. Two times, count 'em, two. Two separate pastors who have either been accused of or admitted to sexual misconduct -- all in a town of just 10,000 people. One is a
supposedly happily married pastor who is now getting divorced to begin life anew with a new woman. The other is a youth pastor who is being accused of improper conduct with two girls from his youth group.

Sure, this is nothing new. Pastors fall like dominoes every year. I've known pastors who have fallen prey to sexual temptation. And I've heard plenty more stories.

A youth pastor friend of mine in graduate school turned out to be misusing young boys and was sent to prison. I never had the slightest idea until he was arrested.

I've been told stories about all kinds of pastors -- and not just male pastors. One female pastor ran off with another man while her husband was SICK IN THE HOSPITAL!

Of course the pastorate can be viewed as a microcosm of society in general. In other words, there will be all kinds, good and bad, in pastoral positions. But it just stands out more when it is a pastor.

There are all kinds of people waiting for a pastor to slip up. I'm certainly aware of this. I know plenty of them. They see the Jimmy Swaggarts and Jim Bakkers of the world and think all pastors are the same way except they don't get caught. Perhaps it is a wish to
justify one's own sinful behavior or lustful temptations, I don't know. But every time one of those pastoral dominoes fall, another excuse for ignoring Christianity is erected in its place.

Being a pastor, I have a little bit of an insight into the other side of the coin as well. Fortunately for me, I'm ugly enough to repel any female's advance so I don't face the same kind of temptations that some take on. The relationship between pastor and a woman with an unhappy life can be confusing for both parties involved. And pastors, like any red-blooded human being (male or female) face the possibility that their mercy, comfort and understanding will be seen
as an invitation to something more. And it's not easy to resist a good-looking person of the opposite sex who is all but throwing himself (herself) at you.

So what's the answer? Sorry, I don't have one. Well, yeah, prayer is a weapon in the fight. But if a sometimes-happily married pastor wants to run off with the church secretary or organist or backup singer or occasional attender refuses to listen to common sense and accept the strength that God provides, that pastor reaps what he/she sows. But think of the lives that are torn apart in the process. Children... church members... scoffing skeptic.

Pray for your senior pastor and your assistant pastors and your worship pastors, and oh please, pray for your youth pastors. Pray that they won't give up the struggle. Pray that they will stand strong. Pray that God will use their ministry and their life's example.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I'm Not Dead

Just a quick note to point out that I'm really not dead, nor have I given up blogging. It's just been a couple of very busy weeks. I promise more actual content will be appearing in the very near future. But until then, in case you were hoping to take a nap, you might as well put on your Armor of God PJs.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Heat Wave Edition - Christian Carnival CXXXIV

Hello and welcome to Christian Carnival CXXXIV (that's 134 outside of Rome). My old friend, Heat Miser brings you greetings as well! Be nice to him... he's a bit of a hothead, you know.

It's August, and let's be honest -- it's been a sweaty mess throughout much of North America for the past two weeks. I myself have lost well over 600 pounds of water weight since July 4. Fortunately, I replaced the water weight with good old fashioned "fat weight" so I'm prepared for winter hibernation. But I digress...

With so many people still trying to recover from the affects of blazing temperatures and 300 percent humidity readings, I've decided to christen this edition of Christian Carnival, "The Heat Wave Edition". So, grabbing a frosty mug of root beer and a couple of salt tablets, allow me to guide you through this week's broiling hot posts, submitted from fine, sweaty bloggers throughout the blogosphere.

We begin with our modern necessity, the air conditioner. Sure, there are still plenty of people walking around in unconditioned air, but for many of us the old A/C is something we cannot do without when the thermometer shoots above room temperature. In the same way, there are many people who live their lives without Christ, not understanding the advantages of a Christian walk. With that in mind, our air conditioner introduces a section of posts contemplating the One who is our necessity.

Complementarianism as a Mediating Position. Don't let the title scare you. Jeremy at Parableman tackles gender roles and consistency in his offering this week.

Jon at Think asks, what are we to make of Christian praise songs that contain lyrics that are literally false (if not heretical and blasphemous)? Do such literal falsehoods implicate truths or fall under artistic license, or are they simply heresy? The post is entitled, Artistic License vs. Heresy.

At Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet, Diane is asking The Seven Questions. She says, "I've identified seven moves within the current evangelical movement that I consider heresies. However, these seven movements are attempting to answer some worthwhile questions that the larger evangelical church is either not answering, or answering well." Read and see what you think.

For those who can't afford air conditioning, there's the lower-cost, lower-enengy-hogging alternative -- the fan. The electric fan is a whirling dervish of moving parts. Three blades in perpetual motion. Until the power goes out. Then throw in the oscillating action and you have movement galore. Of course there is also the paper fan. I remember the hand fans, stuffed into the hymnal rack in every pew at church. There were always two pictures: the obligatory picture of Jesus and the one of the little girl with white gloves praying in front of a stained-glass window. For some reason, there was always a funeral home ad on the other side. But during a hot Sunday service, everyone had one of those paper heat-relievers waving back and forth until wrist muscles were stretched and worn out. Again, it's motion. It reminds me of two people debating with arms flapping and lips flapping even faster. Nothing gets you worked up faster than a good debate. So the fan will lead us into the valley of the shadow of philosophical and political debate.

We'll begin with Leslie Carbone's self-titled blog. Leslie invites us along to read A Vision for America.

Meanwhile at Acme Anvil Co., SteveO has been watching O'Reilly reruns and is taking on the Million Youth March Organizers in his entry.

Is religion The Root of All Evil? At Principled Discovery, Dana begins with Mel Gibson's latest statements and compares them to media statements about Christianity.

Want to learn a little more about political philosophy? JCHFleetguy at Brain Cramps For God is in the midst of that very exercise. Check the post A "Discussion" of Political Philosophy.

Marijuana and hashish in the Old Testament? "Not a chance," says Tyler from Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot. Then he sets about debunking the whole idea. Interesting read.

Minimum Attention For Minimum Wage is the offering from Father David at Left of Calvary.

Mark, from Kingdom>>> Church>>> Culture, has plenty to say about illegal immigration. One of his posts on the subject, Busting into America, he discusses why they are coming, why their countries don't work, and why illegal immigrants are, in effect, stealing (or attempting to steal) rights and privileges that belong to American citizens.

Now, what if the air conditioner and the fan didn't provide cooling as quickly as you'd like? Ice, ice, baby. It's cold and it meets our desire for instant satisfaction. But more than that, ice cools the liquid it floats in. It affects the world around us. The cuves to the left will lead us to posts dealing with our own efforts of affecting the world around us and the world within us. In short, these posts help describe the Christian walk.

The Doctor is In is always a fun read. This week, Dr. Bob shares his own journey of faith in The Path 1:Genesis.

At Trivium Pursuit, Laurie presents a list of Recommended Sermons.

A reflection on prayer in the night comes from penitens at A Penitant Blogger.

The 23rd Psalm is often called the most beloved in the Psalter. Rev Bill clues us in on a new version -- Psalm 23 (For Work).

Dave, from Career Intensity Blog concludes, "Trust in God and believe in yourself and anything is possible." See if you agree with You Gotta Believe.

Becky, from I thought I'd have it together by now, says that her post, A God-shaped Hole, is about her three-year-old grandson’s accepting Christ and beginning his faith journey and her friend Lisa sharing her journey at a retreat. It got its title because our God, who is faithful, has filled the holes in their hearts.

There are times when no matter how you've cooled yourself off, you still smell like a sweaty mess. A heat wave is usually not a treat for the olfactory. A day of sweating leaves you smelling... well, like you've been sweating all day! It's like sin. The more we wallow around in sin, the smellier we get. With that in mind, pull out the Speed Stick, the Ban, the Secret, and the Arrid Extra Dry, lift your arms and apply a generous helping of posts which speak to our sinful condition.

My own contribution to this Carnival is a post I call All Rise, which features the struggle of truly offering God the honor He deserves instead of trying to grasp it and keep it for ourselves.

Andrea Graham offers up The Whipping Boy. It's a discussion of the need to let Jesus, not only be Savior, but also Lord, and it's up at Adam's Blog.

Here's a title which says a lot before you ever click on the link -- The Idolatry of Ministry. Maybe that phrase upsets you. Perhaps it makes you glad that someone else thinks like you. Whatever your position, I urge you to read it at Light Along the Journey.

I'm not sure this is all about sin, but there are people who think it is. At Resistance is futile! Gullyborg gives a response to Christian criticism of a lingerie photograph, from a Christian with different views in Theology 101.

If all else fails, and you're still smelly, sweaty and hot, there's always the cold shower. Just toss everything you have into the shower and turn on the faucet marked "C". And so I'm taking every post that's left and tossing them into a nice refreshing group with no apparent theme.

We'll start with Jack Yoest posting of a letter from a soldier who gave his life for his country in Iraq. The post is simply called, Remembering Staff Sergeant Dan Clay.

A light-hearted battle of words is heating up between David Ker from Lingamish and Rick Mansfield regarding the relative merits of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Here's David's latest foray called A new kind of mind.

I've always told people that yoga is more than just stretching, and it's the "more you have to watch out for. Mick Dobra of the Romans 15:4 Project describes this situation as it began for him with a show on MTV in Yoga - Dangerous Teachings.

At Pseudo-Polymath, Mark wonders about the Reformation's End. Since mainline protestant churches have been undergoing a decades long slide in membership, if they disappear by mid-century ... will the Reformation basically be ended? And what does that mean?

Part-Time Pundit John asks us to consider donating to the Tumaini Foundation, a charity that sends medical and school supplies to rural Tanzania to help AIDS orphans and other children get a good education. The post is simply called Please Donate to the Tumaini Foundation.

Along the same lines, at Matt Jones' Random Acts of Verbiage, the host is extoling another group doing excellent work in helping those the West has seemingly forgotten. Read Uganda's Invisible Children.

That puts the wraps on the 134th edition of the Christian Carnival. My thanks to Dory for keeping this organized (sweating the details), and to all of you who submitted your wares (the sweat of your brow). And thank you as well to all of you who spent time purusing the aisles of the Carnival, trying to bring your body temperature down to a less-than-feverish level. Look for next week's Carnival at a blog near you.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Watch this space!

Coming tomorrow to Attention Span is the latest version of Christian Carnival. It promises to be a scorcher, so make plans to stop by. I'd also encourage you to submit a post before midnight eastern time to so you can be a part of the carnival as an author AND a reader.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nothing's Different But Everything's Changed

The title is from a song on Paul Simon's latest CD. I hear it at least once a day on my Sirius Satellite Radio. I'm not sure I can determine exactly what Paul means by that line, but I know what it reminds me of.

The comment has often been made after accepting Christ: "But, I don't feel any different." I've heard it myself. It's usually delivered with an air of disappointment. Some people seem to be expecting the earth to move or a choir to sing or at least some sort of feeling of invincibility to overtake them. But that's not part of the deal. The fact is, we still have to deal with the problems we make and those we inherit.

One lady asked me, "If I become a Christian, will my life get better?" My answer didn't really satisfy her. I told her that her situations wouldn't change, but the way she looked at them would. Like the rich young ruler, she walked away shaking her head, for she wanted everything to be different. She wanted her boyfriend to really love her. She wanted her illnesses to go away. She wanted a better job and a better this and a better that. But why bother if nothing will be different?

The thing is, when a person trusts Christ to be not only Lord, but also Savior, nothing is different. Ah, but everything's changed. "Keeping up with the Joneses" isn't what drives us anymore. Stockpiling cash and prizes aren't our lives' focus. We now look to please God rather than men. We understand that this earth is not all there is. We realize just how messed up we really are.

Sure, we still mess up. We don't live up to our world view. But our entire priority system has been knocked on its head. We know what we want to be and how we want to act and we're not satisfied with being like the others who couldn't care less about their Creator until they have an emergency.

You see, nothing's different. But everything's changed.