Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years

It was such a beautiful day. The sky was blue. The temperature was perfect. It was one of those days that I was glad to be working outside for the day.

On that Tuesday, I was helping out with my family business at a large outdoor retail market. There were shoppers everywhere, just arriving for a day of fun. It was a bit like being removed from reality, transported to this little island where the outside world couldn’t penetrate.

Sometime before 9:30, word began to circulate among the vendors at the market. A plane had hit the World Trade Center. Then came word that both towers had been hit. One fell. Then the other. A third plane had reportedly hit the Pentagon and authorities were tracking a fourth plane which had turned back toward the east coast.

Those of us with radios turned them up to near full volume. We crowded around the small clock radios, stopping to exchange information with other vendors who were listening to the coverage on another station. We had no television, so all we knew was what the voices on the radio described to us.

But what really struck me about that day was the reaction of the shoppers. They came from at least a dozen states to this shopper’s paradise, and by and large, no one wanted any intrusion from the real world. Occasionally someone would ask what it was everybody was listening to and talking about. When told, they were usually nonchalant about the whole mess. Almost nobody knew where the World Trade Center actually was. One woman mentioned that her son was stationed at the Pentagon, followed by, “Oh, well. That’s interesting.” Most were too busy being wrapped up in their own little world that they couldn’t be bothered with anything that didn’t fit their day’s agenda.

It was so odd living in Sept. 11, 2001 while talking to people who were still living in Sept. 10. People were hesitant to believe what I knew to be true. Or worse yet, they didn’t want to be bothered with the truth.

Of course, that's pretty much an everyday occurrence when it comes to thoughts about God. Any possible thought that might upset the fragile apple cart of a worldview gets thrown to the side of the road. They think, "I don't care if you say you can prove it, you can't prove it to me!" Many people won't consider the claims of Christ because that would mean the need to change not only their lifestyle, but also their entire belief system. So Christ is rejected for disturbing the comfortable.

It's easy to pick on those who won't hear the saving message of Jesus Christ, but I think there are just as many, if not more people who consider themselves to be Christian, but don't want to be bothered with the truth. Many people grow up in a church setting under the teaching of well-meaning but woefully incorrect pastors. Many adopt what they like from Christianity and sprinkle in a little Eastern religion or a little humanism and a lot of pragmatism. Too many in the church today don't want to hear the truth because it makes them uncomfortable.

I am reminded of people I have met who will go to war about what type of music "God likes" but won't consider attending a Bible study. Just because we keep hymnals and Bibles in the same rack on the back of the pews doesn't mean they hold the same theological value.

Mostly though, I think we all tend to get so wrapped up in our own little world, with our own little issues and our own little crises, that we remove ourselves from reality. We neglect the poor and needy in our midst. We give our money so we don't have to volunteer our time. Anything so that the real world doesn't crash in on our private island.

The Church must wake up to the reality of what we are living in. We must be as committed to the One who called Himself "the Truth" as well as the Way and the Life. We have to pull back from our own selfishness so that we can see our neighbors as Jesus sees them.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Hands Tied

Is there anything worse than being unable to help in a situation?

I hate the expression, "Well, all we can do now is pray" on a number of levels. First of all, it makes it sound like prayer is only a last resort answer. Second, it means that we've too much confidence in our own abilities up until that point. But third, it means that we have to sit there with that helpless feeling, wondering what God will do or what someone else will do.

When Paul wrote, "For when I am weak, then I am strong," he was making a point about relying on God. That's a hard lesson to learn. I never feel weaker than when I am weak. Maybe it's the control freak in me. Maybe it's the societal upbringing to "be a man" and "do something." I'm really not sure. But I do know that being in the midst of a situation where I have no real power is really a killer.

Over the last ten years, I've known plenty of people who have watched their spouses die. Cancer, diabetes, and other killers rendered both victim and caregiver as unwilling participants -- like being strapped into a roller coaster, not knowing if there is an end to the ride. I don't envy any of those people. That was a horrible experience for each of them.

It's more complicated when other people are involved. There are many parents who raise their kids properly, but during the teenage years those kids reject the values of their family -- even the God of their family. No matter how many times they talk, the words hit a brick wall. Then comes the feelings of guilt and anger, even when it's unwarranted. I have my own set of fears about the years ahead of me when my kids hit that 18th birthday.

I am in the midst of a situation where pretty much all I can do is pray. And I feel weak. Prayer does help. But like a dog returning to his vomit (one of the most disgusting biblical references around) I seem to find myself returning to weakness. Worry. Sadness. Helplessness. Like having my hands tied.

God has been very good to me, and I know that he will see me through. My faith in Him is unshaken. But there's this lingering doubt that He won't take care of the situation in the way I want. Control issues.

"Lord, give me your strength in the midst of my weakness. Help me to understand that my hands just might be tied so I don't do something stupid and will rely on You instead. Chip away at my pride and my desires to handle it all myself. Place my unsteady feet on the Rock."
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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cutting Them Down to Size

I didn't really want to look at it, but it was there as I was loading the groceries on the conveyor belt. Sometimes I get a chuckle out of supermarket tabloids, but the stuff that focuses on the stars really kinda irritates me. And this one, with the headline, "Cellulite of the Stars," was way too over the top for me.

You see the cover at right. It featured multiple close-up shots of people (I'm assuming they were all women) wearing their bathing suits. But the pics weren't about the bathing suits. The pics were about the disfigured legs, etc. of the "pretty people."

The posterior parade listed some names I frankly didn't recognize. Others were familiar, probably because they were well past the normal age of perfect physical fitness. But either way, the celebrity cellulite carried an air of vengeance. You see, the article didn't seem to be presenting these pictures with an attitude of "Aw, poor Farrah (or whoever it was), isn't it a shame that she seems to have gained a little weight in her thighs?"

No. This was a full-blown "HA HA HA HA HA! Look at the fat on that former supermodel! What a pig! She's not fooling me!"

I realize that the paparazzi probably camped out under a sand dune at the beach, just waiting for celebrities to bend over and display their pockmarks and saddlebags. There is no sympathy for the high and mighty. We enjoy seeing the rich become poor. We crave the chance to watch the pretty people (or at least the ones prettier than us) become ugly. Skinny people turn fat? Fantastic! Young people become old? Perfect!

The old saying is that misery loves company. I think it's more like miserable people want others to be more miserable than them. I heard a poll once that found that most workers would agree to a paycut to only $100 a day if their co-workers would get only $80 a day. After all, we're more valuable than everybody else. Right?

I wonder if that doesn't play into some folks attitude toward witnessing. It's not so important to present Christ's love if it means that somebody less worthy than ourselves will go to heaven. Scholars think that was a bit of the problem in Corinth where the church would come together for the Lord's Supper, but the rich would have these huge meals and not share with the poorer folks in the congregation. Paul told them that their assemblies were doing more harm than good. The rich were so involved in themselves, they missed the entire point.

I've talked to "Christians" who typically look down on people who smoke, or drink, or are on welfare, or speak with an accent, or anything else that makes them different. I've known church members who have no problem sending money for missions overseas but wouldn't dream of helping the couple next door to the church pay the electric bill. My friends, that should not be.

The problem is that our natural state is like those who are pouring over the National Enquirer to see whose thighs have taken on excess baggage. We think way too much of ourselves and we love to think way too little of others -- especially those who intimidate us with their money or their power or their bikini-perfect bodies. We have to stop being so fixated on cutting others down to size and instead focus on bringing others to Christ. Poor and rich, fat and skinny, old and young are all just temporal issues. Saved or unsaved is eternal.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Lard - The Healthy Choice

I can't look at this real poster without laughing. Really.

I remember shopping at the local grocery store when I was growing up, noticing a meat tray with a large white lump, wrapped with cellophane and labelled plainly, "Lard." I always thought it looked pretty disgusting, but frying a couple of eggs in it was pretty good. Lard has been a part of American life for years. I had to explain to my 15-year-old what lard was. He almost got sick. Can't say as I blame him.

Needless to say, this fine smiling family at the left are likely not showing off their pearly whites because of the big hunk of lard they fried up their last 63 meals in. That's just what the Lard Information Council wants you to think. And after working at the Lard Information Council for a few years, maybe you come to believe it too.

I read a letter to the editor in a newspaper last week from a guy who is convinced that the microchip he's heard is going to be put in his license plate (or his drivers license -- I really couldn't understand what he was saying completely) is actually the [Cue dramatic music stab] MARK OF THE BEAST. [Kill music] Eschatological debates aside, how he considered a chip in his license plate to be a 666 on his hand or forehead was really beyond me. But he was convinced.

His letter spoke of giving up driving his truck for riding a horse everywhere, and of placing his license plate in a microwave oven (don't ask me why... microchip, microwave maybe?), and being a danger to any law enforcement officer who tried to pull him over (I'm guessing in his truck, not his horse). He really appeared to be a little light in the common sense department and was overfed on good conspiracy theories.

I wonder about those who jump to believe the worst without information. Many in the church have fallen for strange things like this. All it takes is for TBN to carry a "prophecy" from a televangelist and the gullible in the pews fall for it hook, line and sinker. Anybody else remember the hole drilled into hell and the audible screams which were supposedly heard? What about any of the other theories tossed onto the public consciousness that church folk gobble up? Proctor & Gamble and their "satanic logo"? Madelyn Murray O'Hair threatening religious broadcasting years after her death? Yet too many of the faithful jump to believe without fully investigating what is being said. It's the same feeling I get watching prophecy teachers pick out possible Antichrists and trying the latest bomb in the Middle East to half of a verse in Revelation.

Jesus said, "I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life." (emphasis obviously mine). Why are we so quick to believe what is presented before determining whether or not it is true?

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Friday, July 20, 2007


Free Online Dating

A tip of the ol' ball cap to Reformissionary for the link. The program says that Attention Span was saddled with the PG rating for the use of the words, "pain" (9 times), "dead" (2 times), and "porn" (once). I wonder what Paul's letter to the Romans would be rated...

Oh well, as any movie executive can tell you, PG is better than G because everyone assumes that a G rating constitutes material only for children.

A Lousy Protector

They would have been married for exactly 30 years this week. But that's not the way it turned out. She died about six months ago after a four-year battle with cancer.

During that struggle, he did everything he could for her. He sought out experimental treatments, smarter doctors, more advanced technology and any other option he could think of to take care of his wife and chase this horrid disease away from her for good. But it didn't work. After every operation, after every round of chemotherapy or radiation, the cancer always came back. He couldn't keep it away from her.

With all her heart, the girl wanted to be a cheerleader. In the months preceeding her big move to junior high, she would practice at every opportunity. Mom would help her practice, encourage her, and videotape her so she could learn from her mistakes. She had provided her daughter with dance lessons and gymnastics to help give her the necessary skills to become a cheerleader. But after tryouts were over and the cheerleading squad was chosen, her name wasn't on the list. The girl's heart was broken, and there was nothing her mother could do to lessen the pain. She had given all she could to help her daughter's dream come true, and it wasn't enough. Now, in the fallout of not achieving her dream, Mom still couldn't protect her daughter from the pain.

Like the two true-life examples above, I am also a lousy protector. No matter how I try, I cannot erase pain, nor can I prevent it. And because of that, I often wonder what in the world I'm doing.

My wife is hurting right now. She was deserted by a person she thought was a close friend. Personally, I had been leary of this friendship, but I wasn't going to stand in the way. I thought it would turn out badly, and I warned my wife of what I thought would happen.

I was wrong and right all at once. It didn't happen the way I thought it would, but it doesn't matter now. The friendship is gone. My wife is hurt. I can do nothing about it.

It's the middle of the night as I type this. I can't sleep, knowing that my beloved is in emotional pain and I'm helpless to make her feel any better at all. There have been many times that I have caused her pain personally. Somehow those times are easier for me to take. I can easily blame myself and try to make things right. But this is different. I can't rightfully say that I haven't added to my wife's pain this time out either. In trying to help and in trying to understand, I probably just make things worse. I am a lousy protector.

But it occurred to me that the old stereotype of the husband and father being the protector of the family is somewhat off-base. I know that the man trying to keep cancer from his ailing wife and the mother trying to head off her daughter's bitter disappointment are never going to succeed if the cancer is too far along and the daughter just isn't good enough to be a cheerleader. And I've realized that I cannot keep my wife from hurt when she is depending on a friend who isn't dependable.

While I try to do my best to protect my wife and my kids from every possible disappointment and danger, bad things continue to happen. Ah, but it seems that my job isn't necessarily to keep my family safe from all harm. After all, the sinful world is going to bite us all. Instead my job is a bit different.

In all of my studies in Scripture, theology, and the like, I've noticed that the best people still aren't completely protected from harm or from wrong. Noah was laughed at, David was mocked by his own wife, and Paul was beaten more often than a second-place racehorse. Even Jesus was not shielded from harm.

It's the same with us. I noted that Amy (of humble musing fame) posted a nice refutation of Word of Faith theology the other day. I've done my own railings against this false teaching as well. You see, God doesn't keep us from all harm any more than He kept His own Son away from all harm. So is God a lousy protector too?

Perhaps. But only because that's not His emphasis. While He can prevent hardship and pain, He seems to prefer helping us through it. He didn't keep David from the Valley of the Shadow of Death, He walked beside Him so that David would fear no evil. He did not make Paul an instant hit with the Pharisees, He strengthened him in the struggle.

So it's probably not my main function to keep my wife away from all pain. That's good because I'm failing miserably there. But I have an important calling -- to help her through that pain and disappointment, just as the husband was there to comfort his afflicted wife and the mother was there to dry her daughter's tears. That's a tough calling because it doesn't seem like I'm making any progress. It seems like my words of understanding just fall to the ground like cement blocks crushing her toes. But I keep trying, following the example of my heavenly Father.

I am certainly a lousy protector, but I want to be a better comforter.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

All I Need to Know I Learned in t-ball

Yesterday was the end of the season for my daughter. This was her first season of America's Pasttime -- the low-stress variety, or as it is commonly known, t-ball.

I should explain that where we play, t-ball isn't really "t-ball." For us, it's more like Coaches Pitch baseball. Precious little attention is paid to runs or errors. Even outs are a little superfluous at times.

Picture a five-year-old girl with a batting helmet that is one size too big, standing with a bat, trying to hit the spongy white ball tossed toward her by her coach. In truth, at times it becomes more of a test for the coach to hit the kid's bat than for the batter to struggle to make contact with the ball. If after 6 or 12 or 185 pitches the coach is unable to strike the child's bat, then and only then is the tee pulled out to hold the ball while the batter then attempts to hit the now-stationary baseball. And after pointing the child in the right direction and offering an encouraging word or two, the coach then watches the batter swing and miss about half a dozen more times before the ball is accidentally hit onto the field of play. Then everyone yells, "RUN!" and the batter drops the bat and runs -- often to first base, but sometimes it takes a few times to get the batter to the right base. Then the next batter steps in...

It's actually fun for the kids and mostly for the parents as well. There aren't many "little league parents" who think their kid is being scouted by the Dodgers or anything. But it's hard for those of us who had already "graduated" out of t-ball to get used to players who like to leap on the ball and tackle it rather than catch it, pick it up and throw it.

That's why I have a special respect for t-ball coaches. These poor souls are either the sweetest, most patient people on earth, or they are incredibly stupid to sign up for this. At one game, I happened to be walking toward the concession stand as I passed the other team's dugout. I heard the opposing coach actually telling her players, "We don't wear our baseball mitts on our face!" I never would have thought to tell them that, but I don't have the expertise that these coaches have.

But the people I learn the most from are the t-ball players themselves. I watched one day as a player tried to pull a bat through the chain link fence. He tugged and tugged, placing hit foot against the fence to brace himself and get a little more leverage. It still wouldn't move. Then the coach showed him that he had to pull it out from the other side of the fence. The player learned that the bat is bigger at one end than at the other. Sometimes we all miss the obvious stuff.

But these five, six, and seven-year-olds look at the game differently. And who is to say they aren't right?

Here are the top ten lessons I learned this season from t-ball players:

1) You always hit the ball harder and better if you warm up by hitting the ground in front of you with the bat repeatedly before the pitcher pitches. You get bonus points for hitting home plate with the bat as many times as you can also.

2) The pink bat works better. I don't know why. It just does.

3) The ball itself has little to do with the actual game.

4) The best part about playing the infield is that there are all kinds of cool rocks to look at.

5) The best part about playing the outfield is that there is lots of grass to pick and throw in the air.

6) Batting helmets are amazing inventions. You can hit yourself in the helmet with a bat over and over and over again and never feel a thing!

7) When running from one base to another, keep at least one hand on your helmet at all times. If your helmet falls off, you lose.

8) If the batter hits it to the outfield, the job of the outfielder is to recruit four or five other kids and race to the ball. Then you jump on the ball. After a two-minute wrestling match for control of the ball, the winner either throws it further into the outfield or runs with the ball to the nearest base and steps on it. (The base, not the ball.)

9) If a batter is having a tough time hitting the ball, it is perfectly acceptable for fielders to lay down on the ground, throw rocks into the outfield, or draw pictures in the infield dirt.

10) A trip to the restroom is always more important than anything else you might be doing on the baseball field.

Oh yeah, and one more:

11) We don't wear our mitts on our faces.

Hey, you never know when that advice will come in handy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just like that, she was gone

Sandy (not her real name) was driving along a busy two-lane highway. Her eight-month-old daughter was strapped in her car seat in the passenger seat of her Grand Am. Her two-year-old daughter was strapped in her car seat in the back seat, right behind the driver's seat. Sandy was busy talking on her cell phone. When she was finished with the call, Sandy closed her cell phone and leaned down to place it on the console between the two front seats.

When she looked up again at the road, Sandy discovered that she had run off the right side of the pavement and was headed for a ditch lined with utility poles. She jerked the wheel hard to the left. The Grand Am moved back onto the highway, but it didn't stay in the right lane. It fishtailed as Sandy tried desperately to get the car back in the right lane. She had to do it fast. Headed her way in the other lane was an 18-wheeler.

Sandy tried to beat the truck, but the rear of the Grand Am lingered in the left lane too long. The left rear of the car ran right under the back wheels of the semi trailer. The car bounced off a Sunfire before sliding off the left side of the road. The Grand Am stopped with its nose just off the pavement and the rear of the car in a side ditch. Or rather, what was left of the rear of the car.

Sandy's two-year-old daughter was seated in the spot that went under the wheels of the semi. The girl was killed instantly. Both Sandy and the eight-month-old in the front seat were treated and released from the local hospital. But the two-year-old was gone. Just like that.

I was at the scene of the accident. I wasn't a witness. I got there as the ambulances continue to pull up to the area. The scene was a mess. I was kept back away from Sandy and the Grand Am, although there were pieces of Grand Am all around me. The bumper was on one side of the highway and the fender was on the other. One wheel and a chunk of axle littered the roadway, along with a laundry basket, a couple of nondescript toys and the sheels of a baby stroller.

The driver of the Sunfire told me that he had tried to help Sandy, but she was hysterical immediately after the crash. He knew the child was dead, and wasn't sure what he could do. He had his own children in the car with him. They were on their way to put money down on a trailer so they could move. His kids, 8 and 5, were fairly calm seated in the back seat. They had just stopped a few miles up the road to get each of them something to drink. The kids continued to sip from their bottles.

I watched the ambulance crews as they surrounded the Grand Am. I knew the child was dead as well -- one of the state troopers had told me that much. As I watched, I saw an EMT carry a small bundle wrapped in a blue blanket into the back of the ambulance. I knew what I was seeing. Sandy and the baby were also wheeled to the squad truck. The vehicle didn't move for almost ten minutes before leaving for the hospital.

As I was turning away to leave, I had taken only a few steps when I heard a shriek. I wheeled around and saw a lady who looked to be in her late 50s with a look of abject horror on her face. She was walking quickly toward the wreckage of the Grand Am. Suddenly she cried out, "My daughter!" as she neared the policemen standing near the wrecked car. I couldn't hear what the officers said to her, but almost instantly she hit the ground, her voice coming out as an eerie wail that will haunt me for quite some time. She was on her hands and knees, trying to lovingly caress the blanket which, less than 30 minutes earlier, had been lying across the lap of her granddaughter. I couldn't watch any more and turned to go, breathing yet another prayer for this family.

I have spoken twice with a man in Tennessee. His company owns the semi involved in the accident. He told me he is a former state trooper in that state and has seen his share of tragedy, but in his voice I can hear a note of sorrow that he has not felt before. "My trucks have an almost perfect safety record," he told me. "This kind of thing doesn't happen to us." He is grieving in a way that only he understands.

Please pray for Sandy and her family. I know nothing about her circumstances, aside from knowing that she must be feeling something that I wouldn't wish upon the most evil of people.

In all of this, I am reminded of how temporary this life really is. Sandy's two-year-old girl was alive and vital. Then, just like that, she was gone.

"Thank you, Lord, for the gift of life -- here on earth, and eternal life spent with You."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

No Suit of Armor

Pretty cool, huh? Probably not the most comfortable outfit available, but you have to admit it's a head-turner.

No, I don't have one. Really, I don't have much use for one. But it's funny how my five-year-old daughter reminded me of how some people treat their religious works as if they made some sort of inpenitrable barrier.

My darling princess was doing one of the things she does most (and best), namely pulling out toys to share with us, then leaving them lay all over the house. This time she pulled out pieces of an old Halloween costume. I think one of the boys dressed up as a crusader or a member of The Lord's Army or something like that. So as my wife and I lay in bed, Girlie-girl brings in the breastplate and the small arm shield from the armor set. She laid the breastplate on my wife's chest and handed me the shield and told me to put it on my arm. Well, this big ol' man doesn't fit well into armholes made for small children. I tried to explain this to the Princess, but that was about the time she was ready to move on to the next toy. So I was left to contemplate the armor.

I'll be honest -- nothing much got contemplated. But this morning it hit me.

Do you know someone who places his or her confidence in his or her church membership? What about overconfidence in baptism or in being board president or a Sunday School teacher? I've seen plenty of these people. They always seem to think that they are immune from temptation, or at least from committing any really bad sins. After all, they are the "real" Christians.

These are the people who seem to think that God puts them into a suit of armor. Nothing bad can happen when you're wearing a suit of armor.

The trouble is, God doesn't give us a suit of armor. He gives us a shield. We're not protected from all attacks of temptation no matter what. We're provided a way out of temptation that we have to look for and use.

I know people who have no concern over their own sinfulness. "God will forgive," they say as they go on their merry sinful way. The hypocrisy drips from their chiding of the "real sinners" they see along the way.

Yet when Paul took the Corinthians to task in 1 Corinthians 10, he pointed out that God provides a way out of temptation. He did not say that we will never be tempted. We are given a shield, not a suit of armor. We must be aware of where we are easily tempted. If you are drawn toward Internet porn, you shouldn't be sitting alone with your computer. If you crave the partying lifestyle, you shouldn't be hanging out in bars, even if you think it's a great place to witness.

Temptation will sneak up on us. We must be aware of our situation. We know God will give us the way out -- the shield -- but we must use it. That's always my sticking point. I see the temptation coming. I know I have the shield. I just more-than-occasionally refuse to use it. And I'm betting you're the same way.

Sure, a suit of armor would be easier, but God puts the responsibility on our shoulders. And the shield on our arm.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pulled Back to the Blogosphere

Well after a two+ month hiatus, I'm back to get going again. I've been trying to get back here for a couple of weeks now, but I'll use the tag by Douglas at Crossword Bebop on the Eight Random Facts meme as an excuse to break the cobwebs off the keyboard.

Here are the rules for the meme, which I may or may not follow:
1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each participant posts eight random facts about themselves.
3. Tagees should write a blogpost of eight random facts about themselves.
4. At the end of the post, eight more bloggers are tagged (named and shamed).
5. Go to their blog, leave a comment telling them they're tagged (cut and run).

I'll decide if there's anyone around who still remembers me that I can tag later.

As for the facts, I'll try eight random facts that have to do with my last two+ months away from Attention Span (and the rest of the 'sphere as well).

In the last two months or more:

Uno. I have put in countless extra hours at my third job. Sometime late last year I decided to take a third job that would just entail two Saturdays a month. Well, it's summertime, and it's entailing a lot more than that while others take their vacations.

Dos. The fam and I went on an impromptu vacation. Just got back, actually. It wasn't really impromptu in that we knew we were going on vacation for a week. What was impromtu was the schedule. We left with only the barest plan and no hotel reservations. It was great.

Tres. I saw Weird Al Yankovic in concert. This was part of the aforementioned vacation. I love a good parody, and The Weird One has plenty.

Quatro. I met the governor of Ohio. Actually this is the second Ohio governor I have met. Nice guy, but he appeared to be a politician just like the others. Maybe I'm just too cynical.

Cinco. I have watched thirteen ka-jillion baseball games. Only eleven ka-jillion have been in the last two months. Oldest boy is playing on two teams, plus the school team this past spring. Middle child is on a summer team after playing for the school team in the spring. And yes, the little Princess is playing her first year of t-ball. (I have some thoughts on that whole sport I'll try to dig out soon.)

Seis. I watched yet another edition of the Indianapolis 500 live and in person. Got soaking wet both times the rains hit. Saw Indycars doing 80 mph+ while hydroplaning -- up close!!

Siete. I have lapsed back into my summer doldrums at church. Something about seeing attendance plunge and involvement evaporate for about three months a year tends to make me wonder why I spend the time to prepare a sermon every Sunday. Then I remember that it's not about the multitudes, but about presenting the Word of God to those who show up.

Ocho. I have fallen in love with my wife all over again. We celebrated our 18th anniversary the day after I officiated at another wedding. Her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes catch my attention every time. And spending a week away with her (and the kids) reminds me of how much I love her.

OK, enough of the mushy stuff. I'm tagging you for this meme. That's right, you. Quit looking around. You're up, big stuff. If you're reading this, you can do your own version. So don't wait for a cute little message at your own blog. You don't need it. Get to work. Don't make me send you to your room!!!

And I promise, I'll be posting again... soon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Church Discipline

To be honest, I was never one of those bratty kids sitting in the back pew at church. I've seen them before -- laughing and giggling at the most inopportune times, punching each other, wriggling like they're about to start an old-fashioned wrestling match. The back row boys at my church aren't bad. They pay attention as well as many of the adults. But I've watched the unwatched children (often offspring of the pastors, elders and deacons) as they distracted half the congregation with their antics.

I was reading through an old newspaper account dating back to 1877. The article was about the opening of a new church in the community. Surely it must have been a grand event -- so grand that the newspaper editor thought it would be a good idea for a reporter to write up a story about the crowd and the services on opening Sunday. Allow me to present to you my favorite line -- the last line of the piece:

In the back seats were a number of boys who created much annoyance by
giggling, laughing, and throwing paper, etc., during the time of prayer. If such
acts are again indulged in, arrests should be made and punishment follow.

Yup, you read that right. "Arrests should be made..." Yikes! Now, that's church discipline! I have to really stretch my imagination to envision police officers hauling out pre-teen boys for shooting spitwads and snickering during a prayer. Yet at the same time, I understand the sentiment. When I'm the guy behind the pulpit, I can see everyone's facial expressions, their level of being awake, and the things that distract them. I am consistently amazed by the attention span of the kids vs. the attention span of the adults. With some adults, they might as well be 13 years old.

When I sat in the pews every Sunday, I can't say I was never distracted. Occasionally there was a cute baby in front of me. Often I sat with my own young boys, who used the time to draw cars and robots all over the church bulletin. But I tried to not let my mind wander from the true purpose of the hour.

Only once in ten years have I had a snorer during my sermon. Of course it was an adult -- a visitor, no less! He had come with a buddy who was a rare attender as an adult. It appeared the pair had spent the evening with plenty of alcohol, and now the urge to sleep was just too strong. And to be truthful, that didn't bother me too much. But the snoring was loud. Nobody could pay attention, not even me.

So I decided to preach while strolling the aisles. A sudden burst of my loud voice near the snorer's ears did little to quell the noise. Finally, his buddy got the hint and gently nudged him until the snoring stopped. The sleepy-eyed guest looked around to see if anyone had noticed he had been asleep. A few giggles and stares surely clued him into what had happened. I'm sure his friend probably filled him in riding home after the service.

That visitor never visited again at our church. It's a shame, really. Although had he lit up a smoke during the sermon, the end result would likely have been the same.

We expect certain behavior during a service. Not necessarily silence. Not necessarily loud shouts. But what we expect is an attitude of not wallowing in one's self. The attention is to be God's. When a person isn't paying any attention in a service, it's not an insult to me, it's an insult to God. Sure, there are distractions, but for those who are busy making out a grocery list or reading a newsletter or staring out the window with no interest in the service, you're stealing time away from your Creator. And when your actions distract others, that's inconsiderate.

At our church there are plenty of infants. And I like that. When a child gets too fussy, parents are usually very good about taking them out to quiet them down. Still, even a happy one-year-old is a distraction for the two or three rows behind him. But at the same time, last Sunday, I had just finished saying that Jesus had won the victory when a small, one-year-old voice chimed in out of the quiet, "Yay!"

"That's right!" I told the crowd. "If that doesn't deserve a 'Yay!' then what does?" It took the person who can often be a distraction to pull our focus back where it belongs.

Perhaps they shouldn't be arresting those boys in the back pew after all.

Monday, April 09, 2007

It's Over

Well, it's over -- Easter, that is. I've always been much more of an "Easter guy" than a "Christmas guy". Maybe I just like candy more than toys, I don't know. But it seems to me that there is so much more to the Lenten season, so many layers, so much emotion.

I've always looked forward to Easter, and Holy Week in particular. This year I knew I'd end up having a tough time. My secular jobs were running hot and heavy, and of course there are all kinds of demands put upon pastors at this time of year. On top of that, baseball season has begun in the house, and none of the kids can drive himself to practice just yet. (One more year!) Somehow I knew this Holy Week wouldn't be the same.

It wasn't. I didn't have the devotional time I wanted. It was hard enough to find time when my mind was unfogged so I could do my sermon study. While the significant events of the week passed, I struggled to catch up.

Perhaps knowing my week would turn out this way, I implored my congregation on Palm Sunday not to let the week slip by without realizing the significance. Now, it's gone.

There are times when being a bi-vocational (or in my case, tri-vocational) pastor really stinks.

Still, I am blessed in knowing that it's not over. Sure the Easter candy is all on sale at the Big Box Store, but the message of Easter is eternal.

In December, I always seem to hear Elvis Presley sing, "If Everyday was Like Christmas." In the song, the king laments the lack of Christmas spirit during the rest of the year as if in December everyone is actually acting out of love instead of greed or obligation. It's really beyond idealistic drivel.

Yet the "Easter spirit" is actually alive and well 365 1/4 days a year. The Gospel message is timeless.

On the radio this morning, I heard a man arguing increduously that Christians must be idiots to believe that a man could rise from the dead because there was no natural way it could happen. He was missing the point. Christ's resurrection wasn't natural. It was miraculous. If it weren't, why would we celebrate? Why would we care?

The miracle of the Resurrection isn't seasonal. Thank God.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Time for a Quiz

Just tossing this out for you... a fun fact I stumbled across in a book I was reading.

Please name the country whose people had the world's highest standard of living in the year 1776.

OK, you've waited long enough. I'm not sure what I would have guessed if the question had been posed to me in that form. I ran into this fact in David McCullough's book, 1776, right out of the blue. I suppose I would have guess England, since back in those days, the Brits were the biggest superpower in the world. France would have been a second choice. I'm not sure any other country would have even popped into my mind, let alone the correct answer.

So do you know the right answer yet? The country whose peopole had the highest standard of living in the year 1776 was the world's youngest country. That's right. The United States of America. Before the ink was even dry on the Declaration of Independence, the former colonists were better off than any other country on earth.

McCullough noted that as British soldiers came upon cities and villages abandoned in the wake of Revolutionary War battles, they were astounded at the luxuries the Americans had accumulated. He pointed out that the fact that the rebels were so well off, that the redcoats considered them crazy for declaring independence from the king who allowed them to get this rich. They had a pretty good point.

Personally, I think this blows a lot of so-called patriotic thinking out of the water. I've heard so often that God has blessed America because of our religious foundations or that we have championed the cause of justice and helping the poor. As it turns out, Americans were rich before there even was an America, per se.

Too often we have this bizarre idea that God's Seal of Approval is the awarding of riches. Rich people must be more loved by God, right? He wouldn't let his favorites wallow in poverty, would he? Any good scan of Scripture would poke holes in that theory. Sure, God can boost the bank accounts of people as a blessing, but that's not the only way He blesses. Riches equal responsibility. And, yes, there are many people who cannot handle too many responsibilities.

Remember Solomon? Richest guy for miles. Wives and concubines out the ying-yang (if that's physically possible). What did all his wealth do for him? It brought him down. What was it Jesus said about the odds of a rich man entering heaven? Something about camels strolling through small sewing devices, right?

Not that I'm against wealth. I'm against the boastful attitude that wealth somehow is equated with goodness. I'm defiant against the "God has blessed the USA because we're so stinkin' religious" mindset.

Paul berated the Corinthians for taking on the values of the world. Has America done the same thing? Has the American Church emphasized the seeking of blessings to validate a materialistic lifestyle? Are our hearts bursting with pride as we sing the Star Spangled Banner, thinking that God's blessings have proven that the Founding Fathers surely must have been almost-flawless Christian thinkers?

It seems to me that Americans have been blessed and challenged since before 1776. It's not that we're so great in our governmental style or our general religiousity, it's that we've had more opportunity to accumulate materials. We need to come back to the point where we, as Paul said, know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What Lies Beneath

It's not really spring, but you'd have to be blind not to notice the changes outside the big picture window. Two weeks ago, we were in the midst of a blizzard -- 12 inches of white flakes and 40 mph winds. Since then we had another 3 inch storm blow through, but more recently it's been drizzling rain and above-freezing temperatures. So when I peer out the window today, I see some older, dirtier piles of slushy snow sitting amid bare ground covered with dormant grass. It's a slight hint of green and grey and brown emerging from beneath the once-beautiful-but-now-icky snow.

The more of that sandy brownish-green that appears, the greater the reminder that even when the snow is white and pretty, underneath is something completely different. The snow is only a covering over what is actually a grassy lawn. Even two weeks ago, while a blizzard was raging, there was something different lying beneath to drifts of snow.

Recently I talked to a guy about my age. Steve grew up wanting to enter the priesthood. From an early age, Steve took a great interest in his local church and in the priest's responsibilities. He was an altar boy and volunteered to do other work around the church, sure that this was God's call for his life. He grew to greatly respect the priest, Father Phil. In many ways, Father Phil would be a role model for Steve's life.

Steve wasn't sure what to think when Father Phil began touching the teenage boy inappropriately. The night a couple of years later when Steve claims that the priest spiked his drink and sexually assaulted him, he said he abandoned his thoughts of becoming a priest. It was a number of years later that he finally approached the local diocese, prepared to tell his story. It was many years afterward when the priest was finally removed from service.

I have no way of knowing whether Steve's version of the story is completely accurate, but I'm fairly sure he believes it to be true. And I know that Steve has been called some mighty hateful things by supposed Christians, despite his claims being called credible by the diocese. Some of those hurling insults and accusations against Steve are demonstrating loyalty, but they seem to be missing the possibility that the priest they are so staunchly defending could be guilty.

Steve claims that Father Phil has been leading a dual life. Those who have sent Steve nasty letters and spoke badly about him don't look fully at the idea that a priest is a man, complete with temptations and failings. They claim to know that nothing lies beneath the surface which would contradict their perception of a holy, loving man of the cloth. What is even more interesting, one letter spoke of the possibility that Steve was right, but that author was willing to forgive the priest yet seemed only bitter and hateful toward the one who reported the incident. Forgiveness for one. No forgiveness for the other.

I've known clergymen who have fallen. When one friend was accused of sexual contact with young boys, my mind reacted in much the same way as those defending Father Phil -- the kid must be lying! It turns out he wasn't lying. My friend was living a dual life.

Another clergyman was accused of a sexual crime, and I knew that man couldn't be guilty. He wasn't guilty. But that doesn't mean there was no dual life. That's the thing about priests and pastors -- we're fallen human beings. There is always something which lies beneath the covering.

I'm not a Roman Catholic, but I do understand some of the confusion that Steve related to me. He spoke about trusting the church to do the right thing. He didn't report the incident to the police, choosing instead to trust the church, only to be left as more hated than the one he claims to be the criminal. He trusted the institution of men.

As a pastor, I fully realize the danger of someone with an ax to grind, making up a story, pointing a finger and damaging my reputation, my life, and the reputation of my Savior. And I try to give these fallen clergy members the benefit of the doubt. But I've know too many who have fallen hard. The pastor running off with his secretary, the female pastor running off with a parishoner while the pastor's husband was hospitalized, the youth pastor who made a habit of seducing the babysitter... it's a familiar story.

Maybe the lesson here is remembering what lies beneath. The Apostle Paul claimed to be chief of sinners. Why would we think today's pastors and priests are better? Our faith is to be placed in Christ, not in Christ's servants.

I feel sadness for everybody still involved in this sorted affair. Steve says he has moved on, yet he is still active in support groups. Father Phil's whereabouts are unknown to me, but he isn't currently working as a priest (although he hasn't been disqualified from such work).
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Monday, February 26, 2007

The Jig Is Up

Apparently, the director of the motion picture, "Titanic" is on to us.

Caught red-handed.

Guess I'll be out of a job before Friday...

Oh, a tip of the ol' ballcap to Dunker Journal.

The Trouble with Statistics

First, a quick apology for my absence for the past four weeks. There are times when a person has four jobs when there just isn't much time. And at my house, there isn't a whole lot of spare computer time either, so that has complicated the past month or so. Hopefully, I'm through that avalanche -- at least for the time being.

As most of you know, I pastor a small church. We'll usually have 50-60 people on Sunday mornings. Sometimes more, every once in a while, less. That's been the size of that church for over 100 years, with the given ups and downs over the years.

As a pastor, I feel a bit of pressure to see those attendance numbers go up a bit. And I think those numbers should go up, but it seems the rate of new people becoming more and more active in the church is only enough to replace the rate of older people who can't be there as much or the sick among us. We're not the same old 50 people sitting there every week. That would be waaaayyyy too easy. But I do keep an eye on attendance statistics. I don't live or die by them, but I keep hoping to see a nice jump, reflecting some of the spiritual changes I see in many of the people attending.

January showed a nice uptick. February was looking very good too. Instead of a 52 February average as we've had for the past two years, we were averaging 57 through the first three weeks and carrying a good bit of momentum.

On Saturday, the area was being bombarded by weather warnings. We were told to expect 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of ice, knocking down trees and power lines Saturday night and making Sunday morning traveling impossible. The storm was supposed to start around 9 p.m. Saturday night and last through noon the next day. Now I'm not from Missouri, but when it comes to weather predictions I tend to be a "show me first, then I'll believe it" kind of guy. I have seen far too many warnings for storms that have never showed up. So I told a few of the congregation that I was out with early on Saturday that I would wait to see if this supposed ice storm was as advertised before I called off Sunday services.

The storm began Saturday evening, but after an hour or two of light freezing rain, the temperature started to rise. Soon, freezing rain had turned to rain and ice had turned to watery slush on the roads and sidewalks. No real driving hazard.

When I awoke early Sunday morning to survey the situation, I found no situation. It was chilly. It was wet. It wasn't icy at all. A quick drive down my road confirmed that there was no reason to cancel services.

Now, at that point I realized that many from the congregation were not going to go out to the car and drive to church because they had gone to bed expecting an icy wonderland and a day away from traveling. There would be few in the pews, I was certain. And for a brief instant, I thought to myself, "Oh well, there goes the Tuesday average!"

The day played out as I expected. We had only a few families brave the country roads to come to services. As a result, instead of having a February attendance average of 57 (if I had called off services), we finished the month averaging 51 per Sunday... just a bit below normal... again.

Let me say upfront that I'm not the kind of guy who will let church statistics determine whether or not the congregation will gather for worship on Sunday morning. That's tacky and worldly all at the same time. Yet I also understand the temptation to do just that by a pastor who has been told to get the attendance figures up to par.

I've always felt that statistical trends in a small church have been vastly overrated. Most months, if a family of four can't get the car started and has to miss a Sunday, the church's monthly average attendance drops by one. At my church, that would be a two percent drop because somebody forgot to turn off the headlights on the Buick. Conversely, that same family coming three times a month instead of once a month shows up as a four percent increase. Among many church statisticians, that means proper attendance growth.

Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he classified statistics as the worst of three classifications of lies. Put me down for favoring "proper use and context of statistics" and not "live and die by the numbers," please.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ten Minutes

I heard on the radio the other day that the average stay for a visitor at the Grand Canyon is ten minutes long. That's it. Just ten minutes. You know, look over the edge, take a few pictures, say "That shore is big!" a few times, and then get back in the car. Ten minutes.

I've never been to the Grand Canyon personally, so I can't tell you this from first-hand experience, but I would think I'd stay a bit longer than that. I don't know if I'd ride the mule down inside, but there has to be more than just ten minutes worth of awe. Then again, I realize how many times I overlook the awe that is all around me.

We had a blizzard yesterday, so today it's easy to see the awe-someness in great drifts of snow, arrayed in all kinds of geometric patterns. It's amazing to see bare ground in one place next to a drift more than five feet high. It's kind of our own miniature Not-So-Grand Canyon in the backyard. But in another couple of weeks, when the snow has melted and the ground is all muddy, I doubt I'll consider the backyard nearly so awesome.

I want to consider God as awesome even in the not-so-awesome times. He is no less incredible than He was when he created the conditions for the Grand Canyon to be dug, than He was is an otherwise-lackluster August day. He is no less incredible during the mundane, reptitious workday than He is at the birth of a baby or the healing of a sick man.

God is worth more than ten minutes.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


I've mentioned previously that our upstairs bathroom (the only full bath in the house) is in the midst of renovations. That means no tub, no shower. Only the dreaded sponge bath, which as we all know, is only mildly effective when a person is used to a nice, hot, long shower. So since Monday morning, we've had to "make do" in our hygiene.

We got the go-ahead yesterday to use the tub -- provided we wiped it out well afterwards. So last night, my wife got to try it out. Problem. The hot water wasn't anywhere near what a normal person would continue HOT! I could feel just a slight difference between all-hot and all-cold. But my darling was bound and determined to have a bath and told me, "You'll just have to haul the hot water up to the tub in buckets!"

"I will?" I replied. But she had her heart set on a bath, so I did as I was told. After six trips, hauling the big blue bucket of piping hot water up the stairs to the little bathroom, already crowded with ladders, lights, tools and assorted equipment, and poured it in the new tub. Finally, my wife turned on the cold to make it bearable and she had her first real bath in a week.

Coming downstairs afterwards, she exclaimed, "Oh, it feels so good to be clean!!!" It really made her evening.

So this morning, I had the house to myself. Remembering how my wife felt last night, I decided I'd try a bath too. I shaved, shampooed what's left of my hair (mostly beard) and started filling the buckets for my own cleanliness experience.

Let me tell you, after a week of Mr. Sponge and Mr. Washcloth, there's nothing like the feeling of being clean. Sure it was a lot of work, but it was well worth it.

I don't remember the "conversion experience" that some people have had when coming to Christ. I gradually grew into my faith over the past, well, 45 years now. But I have a little better idea of the illustration of Christ washing us whiter than snow, and what that means to us.

I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

Thank you, Lord for washing me clean.

Friday, January 26, 2007

On Divided Loyalties

Full disclosure: I'm a Bears fan. I have been since I was old enough to figure out what that odd-shaped pigskin was used for. My dad and I would watch every Sunday as the Bears would, quite often, plod their way to a season with a few less wins than losses. There were bright spots, like watching the Kansas Comet, Gale Sayers run, or watching Dick Butkus clothesline runners with barely any trace of human compassion.

I got a treat in the mid 1980s as the team from Chicago put together the greatest team of characters the league has ever seen. Oh, and they could play as a team like something no one had ever seen. But after Walter Payton and the rest of that group of players shuffled off with their Super Bowl rings, I have watched the team return to mediocrity. There have been good years, but they have ended in disappointment.

The other part of my disclosure is that I'm also a Colts fan. I was raised a Hoosier, and truth be told, I still don't live far from the state of my birth. Maybe that plays into it, but I root for the Colts mostly because they are fun to watch. When Peyton Manning is rolling, it is amazing to watch. Similarly, I've been treated to some great, but disappointing years rooting for Indianapolis.

As most of you with media access know, the Super Bowl this year features the Bears against the Colts. My two favorite teams playing against one another for all the marbles. So who am I rooting for? The Bears, of course. When it comes to sports teams, I am first and foremost a Bears fan. No question about it. Will I be disappointed if the Colts win? You bet. And I don't know if it will make it better if they lose to the Colts or if they would lose to the Patriots -- I guess I'll find out soon enough, if it happens. But I know that I'm a Bears fan first, a Colts fan second.

I was listening to a radio interview this morning with an American Muslim. He was talking about a survey an organization had done, asking Muslims if they considered themselves: a Muslim first, an American first, or equally Muslim and American. The survey showed that 70 percent of those responding considered themselves to be Muslim first. 28 percent said that they were American and Muslim equally, leaving 2 percent to be American first.

In my heart, I thought, "Good for them. You should be Muslim first." After all, isn't that what religion is? Shouldn't it transcend political separations?

Much of the rest of the discussion centered on how so many Muslims don't know what their religion is all about, how they can't explain or answer questions about their religion to non-believers, and how they don't bother to read their revered holy book. And as I heard those complaints about Muslims, I was immediately reminded of times when I've said the same thing about people of my own faith. Face it, most Christians don't know what Christianity is all about, they can't explain their faith, and they let their holy Book sit on a shelf and get dusty. The sinful human condition shows itself equally, eh?

Then I also considered the poll question for Christians. Do I consider myself a Christian first, an American first or both equally? Now there was no question for me. I've made my views know on this blog for two years. I'm a Christian first, and I've written at length about how Christianity and Americanism are not the same, nor are they to be equal in a believer's life. That doesn't mean that as a Bears fan that I can't rootand yell and scream for the Colts to beat the Patriots. When my country and my religious beliefs don't conflict, then I am in good shape. But when the Colts and Bears square off and there can be only one winner, I am a Bears fan.

When your country and your faith disagree, what do you do? You live by faith, obeying the laws of the country provided they do not conflict with that faith. When they do conflict, you have no choice. Our loyalties to Christ cannot be divided. We are not of this world, our citizenship is in heaven, and we await a Savior from there.

Go Bears!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Secret Sin

I found this in a small town newspaper. It's the story of Marcia, a 72-year-old retired schoolteacher from a town in Ohio. While doing a little job hunting about 100 miles away near Anderson, Indiana, Marcia was seen driving on the wrong side of the road, doing 20 miles per hour. When a sheriff's deputy got behind her to see if she was drunk, Marcia hit the gas. The chase was on.

After a chase which reached 110 miles per hour, Marcia was finally stopped, but she refused to get out of the car. She later said that she didn't believe the deputy (and eventually all four deputies) were really law enforcement officers. She was tossed in jail on a number of charges.

The last line of the article was a quote from Marcia. She told the Indiana newspaper, "Oh, no, I'd never want [my relatives] to find out about this. They've never been arrested and I've never been arrested." Telling that to a newspaper reporter 100 miles away is all well and good. But I also saw the article reprinted in Marcia's hometown newspaper. That's right. All of Marcia's relatives, all of those who Marcia wanted to keep this from, they all got to read about it in their hometown newspaper. So did this former elementary teacher's former students. There's no hiding the truth anymore.

I wish my life was as pure and sinfree as I can appear. But it's not. And before Christ, there are no secrets. My deep, dark secrets are known. My sins are not hidden.

Yet, if I but ask, He forgives. Marcia will probably have a bit more problem with her family than that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


As I type, the house is a mess. Not just any mess, mind you... it's the mess that comes with remodeling. This time it's the upstairs bathroom that is getting the facelift (and body-lift as well). New shower/tub. New sink and vanity. New commode. New walls. I'm not sure what else, but it'll look completely different. Right now it just looks completely trashed.

We've done a lot of remodeling since we moved here about nine years ago. The house wasn't really what we wanted, but for the price we couldn't refuse. So now we're trying to make it in our own image. But after remodels on the downstairs bath, the hall, the kitchen, the dining room and the upstairs bedrooms, we're kind of used to the smell of paint and sawdust. Still, the place is a mess. A tan canvas tarp is covering the route from the front door to the soon-to-be-new bathroom. On our front porch sits a toilet. Yes, a powder blue commode. Right beside it is the old tub, sitting on a stack of cracked and slightly mildewed pieces of wall board. The construction guys will be hauling it all away. Soon. I hope.

Sometimes I feel like my life is like this house. Piles of trash here and there, and I've gotten used to it all. Maybe you've felt that way too. It's amazing how much of a mess we tolerate. I've been in houses where the residents think nothing of leaving last week's trash lying on the floor or in an unused chair. Once the initial shock wears off, it just seems to make sense to leave it there. After all, cleaning up would require some work and a bit of effort. And cleaning up a life is something we just don't have the strength to do. Which is why from time to time, I have to call in the Almighty with a powerwasher.

I wish the house could be back to normal, but for now, we live in a mess. We have no shower for the time being, so don't get too close. And don't use the powder blue fixture on the front porch.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The God Who Offends

It's always a little disheartening to hear it, but at the same time I've grown to expect it.

Yesterday afternoon began Football Day here at the old homestead. My middle child is a BIG Colts fan, and I am an EVEN BIGGER Bears fan. We both made it through the day with something extra to smile about. (Don't stop by the house on Feb. 4 looking for peace and quiet though!)

Anyway, after the Colts win last night, both the owner and the coach took the time to thank God for the win. Perhaps they didn't phrase it very well, but I've heard a couple of comments from people who didn't like the thought of God entering into the whole arena of professional football.

Not that I think God is pulling strings, forcing a scenario to play out where a Colt defender intercepts a Tom Brady pass and causing the Colts to win. But, as I pointed out in a general forum, God gives us the talents, the abilities and the opportunities among other things. I think he deserves thanks for that.

One man, who is neither a Colts fan nor a Patriots fan, said that he was happy for the Colts until he heard all those "God wanted us to win" remarks. Now he's rooting against the Colts. Another simply said that he could "do without all the God talk" in the post-game report.

The first man is vehemently anti-theist. Don't you dare bring up any possibility of a Supreme Being in his presence or he goes off, like he did late last night. The second man isn't so much opposed to God as he is interested in doing whatever he wants whenever he wants. But each was offended by the idea of God's involvement in the world.

Usually I just shake my head and chuckle at the offense taken by some at the suggestion of deity. I understand that quite often the louder the protests, the closer that person is to finally accepting what he is shouting to deny. Still I wonder, why the offense?

What is it about the idea of "God" that gets some people so riled up? Is it the fear of having someone hold us accountable? Is it the feeling that God isn't running this world the way we would do it? Is it an emptiness from a fear of believing?

God doesn't make everyone happy. He makes some people smokin' mad. But why the mention of "someone" who doesn't exist would create such anger is beyond me.

And for those who feel God doesn't exist because the world isn't perfect (or up to our standards) miss the point of who God is and why Jesus came to die for us in the first place. Maybe missing the point is what really offends.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Very Early Spring Cleaning

Earlier this week, I started looking through my old bookmarks to see what I could delete. When I got to the folders with a lot of Christian blogs, I decided to go through and make another visit to make sure the blogger was still blogging. It also gave me the chance to remind myself why I had bookmarked them in the first place. I'll probably have to redo my blogroll soon.

I was a little surprised how many blogs I came to that had been abandoned. Some had final posts of explanation, while others lamented that they hadn't been posting much but would be soon. And while I can't say I'll miss them all, there are a few that I really wonder what happened.

Of course I understand the fact that lives change, time constraints are placed upon us, and all the while we feel like we're cheating someone with our lack of attention. I've said for the last two years that this blog wasn't going to make me it's slave, and I think I've stuck to that. But at the same time, I know there are areas of my life which could use more attention. So when I click a link to a blog I used to read and find a blank page, I feel some sense of happiness for someone who decided to devote more time to something or Someone else.

At the same time, I know there are many who just grew tired of the fad. It was cute to have a blog for a while, but soon it became more trouble than it was worth. Guilt over the gaps between posts would sink in, then a feeling of desperation or failure would hit. And no blog is worth that, right?

I've been getting on my congregation about the way we do ministry -- as individuals and as a church. With so many demands on our time, carving out an hour or two for actual ministry is tough to do. And in a small church, if only a couple of people make the time, so many needed things are left undone.

At our church, we have to learn to think outside of the traditions and habits we've developed. Offerings are way up and Sunday School attendance is plummeting to new depths. It's like we can give our money, but keep your grubby mitts off my time.

I'm trying to do some weeding out of my own life. There are a ton of things on my plate and a few more side dishes which need to be crammed in there. So I'm trying to do a little Spring Cleaning -- tossing out what really isn't productive time. Blogging stays because I know God is using that to speak to us. Well, mostly me. And I don't feel like I should shut Him off.

TV is going by the wayside. Outside of football games (GO BEARS!) I rarely have time for it anymore. And most of it isn't worth the trouble. In December I discovered that the satellite receiver wasn't working. I called the fine folks at Direct TV for advice on how to fix it, and they wanted to send a repairman to collect $75 to fix it for me. I declined semi-politely and told them semi-politely that I would try to fix it myself first. Well, for three weeks, the TV sat dark except for my daughter's Strawberry Shortcake DVDs. Until the one day I started checking cables only to find that one cable had come disconnected from the set. Fixing the problem took approximately 1.84 seconds. But once I got it up and running, I realized how much I had enjoyed the silence. Maybe God used a pulled cable to get something across to me.

I realize the same thing could be happening at my church. We hold tightly to something because we are used to it, not because it is effective ministry. Giving up a ladies missionary group or a particular hymnal is a big deal if someone has invested a lot into it... sorta like as much as I have in a satellite dish and TV.

The Bible tells us that as fruitful disciples (which are the only kind of disciples to be), from time to time, God will clean our vines to make us even more fruitful. But when it happens, do we sit and mourn the grapes we lost, or do we look forward to the new fruit?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'd hate to forget my own party...

Cake with shamrocks for everyone!

OK, I took this shot from someone else's blogiversary. But it's my party, and I'll do what I want.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

And the winner is...

As I was driving to work yesterday morning, I heard an interview with actor Harry Shearer who was talking about the entertainment industry's infatuation with awards. He joked about the people who get all worked up about the little trophies, but at the same time admitted that it was easy to get caught up in the meaningless awards. His claim was that most awards were, essentially, bought and paid for by movie studios and production houses and their publicists. The statuettes don't really mean anything when it comes to acting or entertaining. It's all a sham.

Certainly that's just one man's opinion. Okay, it's probably the opinion of a whole lot of people -- mostly those without trophies on the mantle at home. But the glitter and glamour of winning an award draws on the egos of entertainers and the hopes and dreams of the entertained.

I recently heard that for an overwhelming majority of young people, the main goals in their lives are to become rich (first choice) and famous (second choice). They either want to hold aloft the trophy checkbook/lifestyle or the trophy popularity rating. It's all about me.

When I got to work yesterday, I found out that my main task for the day was to look back over my work for the past year and pick out my best to submit for awards. I've got to admit that I felt funny about the whole process. First, I really didn't remember doing any work that would stand out in any kind of statewide competition. Second, I really didn't want to bother reliving the past year. But third, something inside me kept nudging me, saying, "Wouldn't that be great to win?"

The more I looked over my work for 2006, the more I remembered. I really did do a pretty good job on many of the projects I took on during the year. Maybe I really am worthy of a trophy, or a plaque, or whatever they hand out.

Then came the realization that the acclaim of man isn't really worth the trouble. Granted, I try to do my best in whatever I do (although my wife may argue that point), but I'm not really seeking fame and fortune for myself. Isn't that weird?

I'm uncomfortable in the role of celebrity. I'm don't like celebrating myself. Maybe it's because I know myself too well and realize that the celebration would be pretty hypocritical. Or maybe it's simply a matter of wanting to focus on anything besides me. Sure, I enjoy being told that something I did was enjoyed by someone else, but not to make me more important or popular. I delight in a job well done.

I've always been curious about John the Baptist, who told his disciples that once Jesus arrived on the scene that "He must become greater, and I must become less." Today's celebrity culture would have laughed at the Baptist derisively and chucked tomatoes and stale locusts at him. But John knew that it wasn't about winning earthly awards or the acclaim of man. It's not about the earthly awards, it's the heavenly rewards that matter.

I hope I never lose that perspective, and I thank God for it. But I know the temptation is only amplified through the worldly culture surrounding me and you.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Guilty Pleasure

I just received my copy in the mail today. Got it off ebay. If you don't remember the original TV series that inspired the Naked Gun movies, you're not alone. There were only six episodes made. The show was cancelled after just four airing -- mostly because you had to pay attention to the show to understand the jokes or know what was going on. I saw them all and videotaped them. I've since lost the VHS cassette, but finally will get to watch the DVD. Tomorrow.

Nothing spiritual. Nothing "godly". Just stupid jokes and belly laughs. And I love it.

I remember watching "Airplane!" in the theatre for the first time. My best friend and I drove way too fast to get there in time for the opening. Actually we were about 90 seconds late. But we both walked out of the theatre with abdominal pain from laughing so hard.

Sometimes an escape from reality really takes the stress away, don't you think?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'll pass on the "resolutions", thanks anyway

I'm not a big "New Year's" guy. Frankly, it always just struck me as the day to throw out the old calendar and put up the new one. Big whoop. But among those looking for an excuse for a party, New Year's ranks right up there because it's fairly simple. Just wait until midnight, scream, blow funny horns, kiss someone near you, and sing that Aunt Langenzine song that nobody understands. Sorry. Not my idea of a good time. Still, I watched the ball drop and kissed my wife. Happy New Year.

The other enduring (not endearing) tradition which keeps rearing it's ugly head is the New Years Resolutions. These trite promises are made to be broken, usually right after you've signed up for the gym membership or shelled out a couple of hundred dollars on stop smoking patches.

I don't make resolutions. Long ago I figured out the whole game and decided to decline my turn. Still with a fresh year ahead, I decided to go about this a different way. Instead of resolutions that are bound to fail, I set up a list of goals for the coming year for myself, my ministry and for my church. These are some of the things I/we will be working on during 2007:

First of all comes prayer. I want more depth out of my own prayer life, and more desire out of the church's prayer life. It's way to easy to just go through the motions.

Our church services need to appeal more to "visual" learners. We are technologically challenged, so this may be tough. Still I have a few ideas to involve the eyes in our worship times.

We need to make time for God. We set aside an hour or two a week to watch American Idol. Why is it so hard to set aside a little time for reading the Bible or serious prayer?

Our church needs to escape the small church mentality which holds it back. "We're too small to be able to do something like that" just ain't gonna cut it anymore. It's a lack of faith, at best. At worst, it's laziness.

We need to care more about doing God's will than our own survival. 'Nuff said.

There are probably another half-dozen or so on the list, but you get the idea. Our theme for the year is taken from James 1 and it's simply, "Listen, consider, act." We have to take time to listen to God and we can't do that if we're not willing to pick up a Bible or hit our knees. We have to consider that what God wants from us may not be what we're hoping for, and there may be some big ramifications in that. And finally, we have to stop thinking about things and act.

Here's hoping that we can hit our goals, or at least make reasonable progress on all counts.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thank God For Change

One of the side stories going on in my life these past few weeks/months has been the developing problems with my Dodge Ram pickup. After it's second major breakdown in two weeks, I needed a car, so I ended up borrowing my 93-year-old grandma's Buick LeSabre. Like an idiot, I didn't pull the satellite radio hookup out of the pickup, so I'm now driving a vehicle with a cassette player. No CDs. No satellite radio. Just run-of-the-mill radio and cassettes.

The problem is that most of my cassettes, um, make that all of my cassettes, are many years ancient. I gladly pulled out a dozen or so of my old favorites to play while driving around, and I packed them into the glove compartment. Each time I pulled out an old gem, I would check the recording date I had scribbled on each case. Then I would chuckle quietly to myself as I read. 1989. 1986. 1982!

Some of those tapes still hold up well, but others, well, not so well. But they took me back to a time long ago. When I was different.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds - I was a year or so out of college, working as a radio DJ. My friends and I were into the Texas-rock sound.

Restless Heart - I was about to get married, working as a country DJ for the first time in my life. I didn't even know much about country before I took the job playing it. One song reminded me of my days in high school, cruising the one-stoplight town, looking for ways to pass the time.

Shooting Star - Wow! Living in the college dorm, I was craving more music on a student's budget, so a dozen or so of us taped each other's albums to save us all a bunch of money. The album was frequently heard seeping out of the cracked doors of the dorm rooms on my floor.

Weird Al Yankovic - It's funny that I listened to Al back in the day, and now my boys are listening to him.

Twenty-five years of changes in me. Some good. Well, I guess most all of them are good. God has done a good work in me -- not that He's finished yet.

I know a woman who absolutely hates change. Maybe hates isn't the word. Maybe it's fear. But it manifests itself in hatred and dread. Somewhere in her mind, something tells her that any kind of change is bad -- even change which is supposed to make things better and easier. She seems to take comfort in the "sameness" of life.

There are many churches who are very litergical in nature. By that, I don't just mean "high church" but predictable church. Just carve the order of service into the wood on the altar, already. Only the hymns are rotated each week.

I know there are people who are comforted by that. The whole "God is always there" idea. But I'm not one of those people, and I don't really think we are called to be. Not that there's anything wrong with a constant order of service. It's just that God seems to use change so well.

In His earthly walk, Jesus wasn't all too predictable. Even the Twelve didn't understand where He was going and why. He talked to foreign women. He hung out with tax collectors. He chewed out the religious figures. He called a guy out of a tomb after four days. Las Vegas oddsmakers would have lost a bundle taking action on this Guy.

In my life, God has used the unlikely things of life to change me. The loss of a job. The loss of a son. Lonliness. Rejection. He's always pulling the silver lining from the dark cloud, even if all I can see is the storm that surrounds me. And in the change, He makes me better.

So why do so many people fight change, especially in the church? Could it be the familiar makes us comfortable enough that we don't think we need to take up our own cross every day? Do we honestly think that people are the same as they were 150 years ago? Sure, we're still sinners, but we dress differently, we act differently, we talk differently, and we communicate differently. Why wouldn't we worship differently?

I guess that maybe I'm just wondering how we as the church decide that our traditions are on a par with Scripture. Depending on who I'm talking to, I can hear people saying that a church isn't a proper church without:
  • altar calls
  • pews
  • hymns by Fanny Crosby
  • an organ
  • a choir
  • a Sunday evening service
Even some newer churches have taken their own liturgy and their own traditions and elevated them to "must-do" status. Frankly, I'm sick of the whole lot of it. I understand the thinking that goes into abandoning the church when I hear these modern-day Pharisees pass judgment. But I still don't agree with that thinking. The church is too precious to be left to those folks.

As I read the Bible, I keep reading about being transformed by the renewal of my mind, about being conformed to the image of Christ, about being sanctified. And I wonder again why we would fear change.

Some of my old attitudes just don't play anymore. Like the old Petra tape in the basement that's too tangled and twisted to fit into the tape deck, those old things don't work in me anymore.

Thank God for change.