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.