Saturday, February 27, 2010

This Christian Life: Catfish Fridays!

It has long been the Roman Catholic tradition to abstain from meat on Friday during the season of Lent, and to eat fish, which is not considered meat. Not that I had that in mind yesterday when my family and another friend's family stopped in at Cook's Fish Barn in Comanche county, Texas.

Cook's is open only on Friday and Saturday nights, and, is renown for its catfish and steak buffet. For those of you "not from 'bout these parts" - catfish is a staple of the southern fried diet. Fillets are cut up into chunks, rolled in a seasoned cornmeal coating and deep fried into a crispy culinary confection! You can use either your fingers or a fork to eat this yumminess, which is dipped into your sauce of choice: ketchup, red sauce or tartar sauce. I prefer tartar sauce, but others like, well, other sauces... Needless to say, whatever Lenten restraint I may have had previous to last night went out the window, because I ate "a whole mess" of catfish. It was crispy, crunch, steamy and tasty. I was eating fish on a Friday in Lent, and still felt like sin! I ate fish, ignored my salad, fries and hush puppies - I ate fish, after fish, after fish.

Problem is, I can still taste fried catfish this morning. I over did it. Truly, I had too much of a questionably good thing (I thought I overheard someone saying something about eating deep fried bottom-feeding, mud-sucking fish couldn't be truly 'good' for you!). I think they were partially right - after the fact.

But I think the greater problem was my serious lack of restraint. I shouldn't have gone back for thirds. I realize, of course, that I'm not the only with that issue though. Every central Texas cowboy around me last night was gorging themselves on the tasty treat. Indeed, most Americans don't know how to show restraint at the table. So, for the first time, I experienced an object lesson on gluttony. Yes, that's right, I'm bringing theology into this post... Let's call a spade a spade and a sin, a sin: GLUTTONY.

Gluttony is an interesting sin, and its usually a sin exercised in moderately wealthy societies. It is the 'eating sin' and is marked by a lack of restraint. We do not know how to discipline our appetites and so indulge them until we make ourselves sick. Proverbs 23:21 says:

For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,

And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

Interestingly, gluttony is sin that marked many baptist preachers in the past and may still mark some today. We are teetotalers in regards to drink for the most part and we won't admit to dancing - but boy howdy, we will sure enjoy a heaping plate of fried food!

Well, its back to Lent for me: moderate portions, nice salads and plenty of exercise. The weather seems to be getting nicer, so I will be biking more to the office. Goodbye gluttony, hello grace!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This Christian Life: Over Qualified?

I have heard a lot of phrases in my life, most of them being a means to explain or dismiss something. For example, the phrase, "c'est la vie" - meaning, "such is life" - or "it is what it is" - that is to say, "take it at face value." We say things like, "one for the road" or "podunk" or "cheesy" without even thinking about it. Having heard all these phrases, there is one that I never thought I would hear in regards to my own life - which I heard today by the way - and that is - "he's over qualified." Over qualified? I thought, that's odd, I've never been "over qualified" for anything in my life. But that's exactly what I heard on the other end of the phone.

If you know me, you know that I am a friendly person and if you didn't know my credentials, you'd probably just think that I was a postal worker or maybe a lumber company employee or maybe a low-level civil servant - all jobs that I have held by the way. I've never wanted to flaunt my education or knowledge. I just want to be a regular guy who loves God and neighbor. But the curricula vitae doesn't lie. There it is in black and white: a bachelor's degree, two master's degrees and almost two different doctoral degrees. Sometimes I look at the person on the paper and think, "man, who is this guy?" because it doesn't feel like me.

I am more than I would appear to be on 20lb bond paper. I am flesh and blood with a heart. If I've learned a lot and done a lot, its not because I am looking to flaunt my achievements, its because I want to learn; and I want to learn because I want to know how to help people. So when I hear those fateful words, "you're over qualified" I start the process of introspection. I've never obsessed about salary or power or prestige. I am not a very 'fancy' man at all. I wonder, how can a love of learning make you over qualified?

Soon enough though, I realize it doesn't matter. To be "over qualified" is not my problem, it is theirs. I am who I am. I am what God has and is making me into. Take me or leave me. God says that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made." In light of that opinion; maybe, just maybe, I will someday just be qualified.

Good night dear friends...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TCL: What Will Our Children Become??

For all the parents out there like me: Chuck, Carol, Dave, Sharon, Scott, Rebecca, Ken & Tracie

Train up a child in the way he should go,

Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

I have two daughters. One is seventeen years old, the other is ten years old. They are gifts (Psalm 127:3). They have grown up in a home where prayer and Bible study is a normal activity. Yet I have come to realize that they are still drawn to "the world" and that my wife and I must continually encourage and shape their spiritual lives. If not, the world will. That's how pervasive the influence of our world is.

The eighteenth century philosopher John Locke was partially right: we are a 'blank slate', a 'tabula rasa' if you will. Our children begin adopting worldviews and attitudes on the first day of their lives. They need their parents to instill a worldview shaped by faith in order to understand spiritual things. And its not just one parent, it is both. The great fourth century pastor and theologian, Augustine of Hippo, recounted his struggle with faith in his still widely regarded autobiography, Confessions. In this book, he recounts a childhood and young adult journey through the ugliness of life until finally, as a young man in his early 30s, he came to faith in Christ. In this book, he tells the reader that were it not for the faithful intercession of his mother, Monica, he might not have come to faith at all. Parents make a difference. What would Augustine have been like had his father been a believer as well?

Now, on the eve of my older daughter's graduation from high school and preparation to attend university, I'm struck now, more than ever before how important that spiritual leadership is to our children. We need to be spiritually proactive in their lives more than ever. Pray with them every chance you get. Have a simple bible or devotional time with them every night. Worship with them in church. Discuss with them why the message of our world about success, material goods and sexuality can be so destructive. Help them understand their calling as a child of God in our world.

The Greek word gi÷nomai means, "to become"... Our children are in the process of 'becoming' something. We have a say in that process and we must not take it for granted. Look at yourself for a moment; your mother and father set you on the course that you are on today. Do you like where you are? What has your struggle been like? Would it have been different had your parents made other decisions? I cannot answer these questions for you, only for me. What I can say with resolve, is that my children need me to get involved in every aspect of their lives. I am a role model whether I like it or not. I can be a good one or I can be a poor one - I can't escape that responsibility.

What is your child 'becoming'? Our world has an agenda that spills into our lives through media, public education and the overt materialism at every store and mall in our nation. If you do not train up your child in the way he or she should go, then the world will implant its values and attitude. Don't let that happen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Little Moments Can Make a Big Difference!

I am making a blogging detour this morning, because, well, just because.

Its been a long three or four months at my house and I'm tired. I go to bed tired and I wake-up tired. I found out this week that some vision problems I've been having are because my prescription has changed. No surprise there. Between you and me, I think its stress related, though my doc thinks its a middle-aged-man-thing. I'll trust her on this one.

Anyway, while seated in an exam chair in almost total silence, waiting for the doc, with my mind racing about all the things that were going on in my life and how so overwhelming the issues are and how tired I am and how much I just want to shut down...something(s) happened.

I smiled. And I giggled. I haven't really smiled and giggled in a while. Too many concerns. Too many things to think about. Too many responsibilities. Too many important decisions coming up. Too much manliness to live up to. So this person walks in to the room, sticks my head into an opthalmobobulator and says, "Look at my nose." And I felt the corners of my mouth turn up with tension in my lips and cheeks, and, I stiffled a giggle. At first I didn't know what was happening. I mean it had been awhile, you know. Not much to smile or giggle about. But in that one moment - a God moment for me - I knew I wasn't alone. I knew things would be OK and I realized that these issues would soon pass.

I don't know if my doc had any real knowledge of my predicament or if it was her intention to do anything other than figure out why I was having a hard time focusing. I know that I had no intention of revealing my inner struggles at that moment. But God always knows and always meets us where we need to be met with just the right touch.

I need little moments of shared joy in my life. I need God moments. We all do.

Listening to the radio the other day I heard someone say, "If you want to change someone, change yourself." Not necessarily a biblical admonition, but a wise one nevertheless. I would suggest to each of you readers today that you provide "little moments of joy" to those around you by purposing that you will be Christ to someone who needs it. Tell someone you care about to "look at my nose" - You never know what will happen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This Christian Life: Ash Wednesday

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice
[Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot]

T. S. Eliot, the early 20th century American Poet, transplanted to England, wrote these verses around 1928, after his conversion. The poem reflects Eliot's struggle to come to faith. The starkness of his imagery reminds me of what Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent are all about.

Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Easter Sunday, not including Sundays. The day inaugurates the season of Lent, a time of repentance before Easter - resurrection Sunday. It is a season of repentance, reflection and of learning. It is a time of preparation.

As a Baptist, I realize that we do not usually pay any formal attention to Ash Wednesday and to Lent. This is a terrible oversight I believe. There must be a place for a 'season' of repentance that is both personal and corporate. A time when individual believers can reflect upon life and confess our failures, and then reflect on what God desires from us; and a time when the corporate body of Christ can reflect and repent of its own sin. Indeed it is the repentant life that marks every Christian, or at least it should. I am reminded of the words of 1 John 1:8-10...

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

The Christian life is a life that understands its own frailty and failures. It understands its need for the divine life in order to live and thrive. Ash Wednesday and Lent put our pride back into place, reminding us that we cannot do it on our own. They remind us that our life belongs to God and that repentance is an important part of being a follower of Christ. There is no other way. Joy comes in the morning to the repentant heart. To the repentant heart, resurrection is everything; to the prideful heart, Easter is just another Sunday, marked by stuffed bunnies and colorful hard-boiled eggs. If you decide to honor this season in your own life, I pray that God will speak to you in a powerful way.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Christian Life: Love.

If you have followed my blogs over the years - and I've been blogging since 2006 - then you know that 'love' is one of my favorite topics! So today, on St. Valentine's Day, I think it is apropos that I should talk about love. First a few general observations.

Love is something most of us don't understand.

a) We confuse love with biological lust. The ancient Greeks called this 'eros' and understood the consequences of eroticism when pursued without boundaries.

b) We think love is a 'feeling' - something we fall into and out of, rather than a willful placing of the good of the other over our own good. Thus love becomes a fickle, elusive feeling.

c) We think love can only be practiced within the boundaries of marriage, thus we confuse again the nature of actual love with romanticized popular love or even eroticism.

d) English just doesn't do justice to the various forms of affection that the earliest cultures understood.

eros is the word for physical affection, which easily becomes corrupted as "lust";

phileo is the word used to describe the affection one has for a friend or even a spouse;

storge is the word used to describe 'familial' love - an affection one has for a family member;

agape... agape is the word used to describe the affection God has for us and the affection that human beings can only experience when God dwells within them. It is the affection that God displays for human beings by allowing his Son to stand as the propitiation for our sins. It is the unconditional affection by one for another that seeks only the good for the other, whatever the cost.

On St. Valentine's day, it has become our tradition to celebrate popular love, the attraction a man has for a woman, a husband has for a wife. But this was not always so. Pope Gelasius I in A.D. 496 proclaimed this day as a "Holy Day" honoring the martyrdom of Valentinus, who was murdered by the Roman Emperor Claudius II for refusing to convert to paganism. Thus the earliest "Valentine's Day" celebrated the unconditional love one man had for God. A love that cost him his life.

Now I don't want to be a 'spoiler' for all you "young lovers" - as Oscar Hammerstein would say -but I do want you to think for a moment about the question, "What is love?" Is it a "feeling"? Is it a biological response? Or is it the activity of God in us and through us to others. In English, the answer would be yes to all of the above. But it gets complicated quickly.

Unconditional affection (agape) for every human being is impossible. It's a God thing. I can phileo my wife and many of my friends, storge my daughters and other members of my family, and my eros stays within the boundaries of my marriage covenant. I've tried to agape, but its too hard. I can't do it on my own strength, I just can't. Only God can do it in me and through me. So every day, I have to relinquish the control of my life to God so he can agape through me.

I've had the great privilege of loving many people. I have good friends and I have a great family. I truly love my colleagues and students. I also have a few special friends that I love dearly and deeply. I have one friend that I will love more than they could ever know, though I may never see them again. But if love did not cause a little suffering in our lives, I don't think it could truly be love.

I love you all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This Christian Life: Playing to the End...

When a team gets behind in a football (American football for my UK friends) game in the second half, it can be very difficult to come back. I'm thinking of the BCS National Championship game between Texas and Alabama or even the Super Bowl this year between the Saints and the Colts. There was a point where both Texas and the Colts basically got behind late in the fourth quarter and they just shut down, realizing that they could not win. To watch the game after those pivotal points was to watch a total breakdown to the end. They just gave in to the loss. They stopped really playing.

Life is like that, isn't it?

I have come to realize that I am now fully in the second half of my life; of course that is if my life expectancy is 85-90 years. Most of my age-related peer group is fully invested in their careers, sending children to college and thinking ahead to what it will be like as 'empty-nesters' in the next 5-10 years. They live in relatively comfortable homes for the most part and with the exception of the travail all are experiencing due to the economic down turn and the health concerns of mid-life, they are 'plugging-away' at their routine.

There is a darker side to middle age though. The realization that your parents are now on the final run of life or even starting to pass away; they are experiencing serious, life-threatening illnesses that keep you on the edge of your seat. Or maybe that your teenage children are making poor decisions that seem to constantly drain you of finances or keep you in a constant worry mode. Additionally, your career has taken an unexpected turn and now you are having to retrain, retool for something else, which can be terrifying at this phase of life. Worse yet, maybe you have been married for 20+ years and all of a sudden you find yourself unable to communicate with the one in which have invested so much practically all of your adult life.

If these different problems hit all at once, they can cause a paralysis and a depression that can get so deep, so quickly that you just want to quit. Just like the football game where you fall behind after the half. You just give up. You quit your job, your marriage and your kids. You surrender to the stress.

Not to wear out the athletic metaphor - but truth be told - you have to play to the end of the game. Maybe at half-time you have to change your game plan, you have to run instead of pass or pass instead of run. Maybe you should go with a "man-to-man" coverage instead of a "zone" coverage. Or maybe you simply need to play with heart; remembering your assignments and pushing on through. You can't give up though. You have to play to the end of the game, giving it everything you've got.

Well, many of you reading this today are at half-time. Things aren't going quite like you thought and the stress is mounting. You might even be ready to throw in the towel. But friend, you can't. The game is not over and you can't let circumstances defeat you.

In our 'wizzy-go-fast' self-made world, you've got to find the one thing that can sustain you in life and all of its twists and turns. Constantly I find myself returning to several "God-reminders" in order to make it through the tough times and I hope they can help you too:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

[Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB95]

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:25-34 NASB95]

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. [1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NASB95]

Finish the game my friends.

Friday, February 5, 2010

This Christian Life: The Tyranny of Drama...

Don't you just despise being "in between"?

You know that point in time where life simply seems like one big 'drama' and you just pray that you could know exactly what God wants from you and where God wants you to be?


Well, this week has been one of those weeks. It hasn't been a 'bad' week by any means. My family is fine - no one is ill, no students are in open rebellion, my writing is going well, the pets have been well behaved, we have money in our bank account and I had a wonderful experience leading our Wednesday night prayer group.

Yet, my own spiritual malaise is at full throttle. [aaarrrggghhhh!!!!]

I find myself wondering minute by minute about what the future holds; wondering what God has in store for me and wondering if I'm actually looking for a sign too far down the road when what God actually wants from me is right in front of my nose! Have you ever had that happen to you? You know, the point where you are trying to discern direction and then you start trying to discern if you are trying to discern too much!! My goodness, I think I'm now becoming my own worst enemy... Please tell me I'm not alone dear friends.

I've realized that I'm looking so closely at everything for a clue to what I should be doing that I'm really missing what I could be doing. Can you tell that I'm laughing at myself even as I write this blog. Ha, again!

Well, I'm tired of the tyranny of this drama. I need to pull my net in and just let God be God. I'm fortunate to have the friends and readers that I have praying for me. So thank you Scott and Anonymous ;-) for remembering me and simply reminding me that God is God and I am not.

This morning I had the great joy of sharing a book of poetry with my boss, the President of the University - what a fine scholar and joyous man. It is a moment I will treasure. I had the privilege of teaching a preaching class of 7 wonderful students. I had a conversation over lunch with an old friend, a former dean of the school of music at the University of Oklahoma. When over hearing my predicament, he said to me, "Have you ever thought that you are right where you need to be, where all of your talents are put into action?"

Having said all of this, I know that it is tough for all of us - trying to find our place in life. We have to balance our wants and our needs, our dreams and our realities. As Christians we have to understand our 'call' but not over think it either. (Which of course seems to be my problem at the moment!) My Grandma, Ida Williams, ever the fount of wisdom, used to say, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade' and 'bloom where you are planted' - Scripture tells us that we are to be faithful with the gifts God has given to us. Amen.

I've always been an adventurer, always wanting to be on the cutting edge. That in itself is part of my drama. Of course, what I need is what we all need: love, meaning and purpose. And friends, did I say friends?

Regardless, I'm purposively letting go of the drama. My life belongs to God. Send me or keep me Lord - I'm good with it. Just satisfy me with you Lord... and please, hold the drama.