Sunday, June 20, 2010

Before I go...

Yes, its that time again. Time for me to take off on another trek above the Red River. This time I am taking my daughter Hannah with me. We will explore and work together, seeing friends and family in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and beyond (I just pray that there are no hail storms, tornados or like manifestations this time around!).

I think deep inside, I love to travel, to be in different places - to see, do and experience new things. I like the challenge of living and breathing the unfamiliar. It is a challenge that I enjoy and take up whenever I can. I think this is why I enjoy the northwest so much and truly love my visits to the UK. It pushes and challenges me! Somewhere deep inside, I wonder if the same thing drove the apostle Paul? I like seeing a need and meeting it; going in faith and letting God work, wherever I may be!

I enjoy traveling with both of my daughters, but this opportunity with Hannah is special. She is developing her own understanding of God now and I love talking with her about it. She challenges and encourages me. I believe that as much as we shape and rear our children, our children shape us - it is from this process that we both grow and change as human beings. We will work together, swim together, eat together and be on long drives - where we can talk about Jesus, the Spirit, the Bible and other concerns of faith. Of course, we will also talk about ballet, school, friends and root beer!

We will also be discussing upcoming "possibilities." It seems like where God shuts a door, He always opens another, so Hannah and I will have the opportunity to talk and pray about what God has for us next. Truly, Helen Keller was right: Life is a daring adventure...

In the next few months, I am working on my thesis, arrangements, sermons, judging assignments and fall class lectures. I will be diligently helping my new friends at Hillcrest find their way to health as the Body of Christ. But I will also be looking to the future. The Spirit speaks to the heart and I need the quiet to hear a bit better! I know this trip will provide the time, quiet and insight I need to hear from the Father.

All though this might sound disconcerting to some of you, don't let it bother you. I know more than ever that I am where God wants me to be - in the middle of His will. Life is never static, but a journey. God takes us where He wills. Even if you never leave the county in which you live, life with God is a daring adventure. For me, each new friend, student and moment can be an adventure on my journey! I am blessed that I have a family that understands and friends that are supportive.

And so in a few hours, I will leave Brownwood with Hannah on an adventure. Keep us in your prayers as we travel and share. I like adventures and I like nothing more than sharing them with my children and friends. I look forward to sharing with you when I return.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Most Powerful Weapon in the World.

Men, it's almost Father's Day, so this blog is for you. Take it to heart. Embrace its message.

In my day to day existence, I run into people all the time that use the "F bomb." For example, "Hey, did you hear that guy over there? He was so angry that he dropped the "F bomb!" Of course, when I mention that phrase, most people understand that I'm talking about a substitute for a commonly understood profanity. When I was a kid growing up, the "F bomb" or "F word" was the "mother of all profanities", the use of which could get you a slap in the face, your mouth washed out with soap or a serious grounding. In other words, its use was simply unacceptable. People of education and culture were reared not to use that word under any circumstances and certainly practicing Christians would not use that word! (Paul in Colossians 3:8, 4:6 and Titus 2:8 addresses the importance of sound, graceful speech to the Christian).

Nevertheless, both non-believers and believers have been found using that word, that "bomb." Not so much in reference to the literal meaning of the word, but as an emphasis, used to 'vent' uncontrollable anger. In other words, someone is really angry if they use the word. It is not a casual conversation word for the most part, but an interjection used to reflect a state of being. Sadly, the word has entered into common usage among all people. We have even become de-sensitized to its use. We don't give it a second thought or at least in many circles it is not given a second thought.

Well you must know, if you know me at all, how much it disturbs me to even write about this word; for it represents all that I stand against - anger, malice, uncontrollable language, the belittling of another person and the denigration of self. Its a word that evokes tremendous sadness, anger and many other feelings. The word has become a weapon in our culture. Although this word is usually uttered by men, it knows no bounds - women will use it too. But must it be this way? Is this word truly the most powerful weapon in our world? Should the use of this word define what it means to be a man in our culture? It sure seems to do so... but is that really what it means to be a man, or a father?

Yet there is another "F bomb" that people should drop - and without doubt - Christians should use constantly. It is a word-act that should define what it means to be a man and a father:

It is the bomb of "forgiveness". Or maybe "balm" of forgiveness!

Forgiveness, without a doubt, is the most powerful, most needed weapon/healing ointment in the world. In a world of hurt, a world of 'grudge holding' and a world of revenge, forgiveness is the only word-act that can change our reality. How can it do this? It can do this because forgiveness, at its heart, is an act of love. Love for God spilling over into a love for others.

Men should learn to love their wives with forgiveness. Father's should learn to love their children with forgiveness. Men should learn to forgive as easily as they have learned to speak in profanities. Why - because profanity only injures our world; forgiveness heals it.

Do you want to change dad? Are you tired of the strife in your family life? Then surrender the profane F-Bomb and exchange it for the balm of forgiveness. It will renovate your heart and bless your life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bitter Sweet...

I reconnected with an old friend yesterday and it was almost too much. Sue and I were friends back in high school. We both played trombone. She played in the Catoosa HS band and I in the Broken Arrow HS band. We both took lessons from L. Dale Barnett and I truly believe challenged each other to always achieve more, although I know she was always better than I was. We hung out together a bit and even went out once; twice if you count the date we went on with Wally Thrun - another trombone player! Sue was, and and continues to be special. She is now married to a great guy, with great kids and still has the same big heart! She loves Christ, loves her church and still loves to play the trombone! It made me glad that she found me! (I guess facebook is good for somethings!)

Anyway, isn't it funny how your heart leaps when you reconnect with someone you haven't communicated with in a long time? Many people come in and out of our lives. Some of them we remember more fondly than others. But then there are those who really made an impact in our lives in a positive way. Although my window of time with Sue was brief - sophomore and junior years in high school - they were important years and important contacts. I can say this about a number of people in my life - Sean and Mark, Kale, Debbie, Don, Joe, Brent and quite a few others. I don't see them often, sometimes for years; but when I see them, my world lights up.

What is the intangible in my relationship to these people that does this to me?

My only conclusion is that it is one of the many forms of love - true friendship. The Greek word for true friendship is philadelphian - brotherly or friend love. The bond is deep and it is not simply a feeling, but a state of being. I have connected with these people and they have connected with me. We share philadelphia - brotherly love - on a very deep level. We are connected. Over time, I believe that philadelphian can transform into agape: the selfless love that God has for each of us, we can have for each other. Indeed, I believer we were designed for just that kind of love.

Although our world tries to define 'love' severely - as a biologic reaction, or a condition that is out of our control and leaves as quickly as it arrives, or as an exclusive condition between two people - that is not the Biblical warrant of love. Interestingly, not many people - not even Christians! - can handle loving others outside the world's definition of love. The very idea of love is too powerful, too intimidating. So we limp along, missing the completeness God has for us by not loving others as Christ loved us.

I have loved several people deeply - I know, because I have the broken heart to prove it! - but Tennyson was right: "it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." I don't regret loving those people unconditionally, for I know that is how Christ loved me. And though I've hurt when that love was refused, unreturned or unappreciated, I don't regret loving. You see it is in the sharing of God's love and its consequent grace, mercy and hope that we are completed - regardless if it is returned.

Thank you Sue, thank you Scott, thank you... for finding me, caring about me and truly loving me as your friend. You will always have my love in return.

Indeed, Christ says, "They will know you are my disciples in that you love one another."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Pastor's Eye View

Yesterday afternoon I officiated at my 'umpteenth' wedding. (Yes, I've officially lost track now!) And although I cannot remember the exact number off the top of my head, I can tell you that it was a very special wedding for me as an officiant. The couple that married was not only made up of former students at the university where I teach, but the groom was the eldest son of one of my closest friends. Additionally, I had worked with the couple for over a year on premarital counseling. The two young adults are passionate about their faith in God and the success of their marriage. They wanted to get it 'right'.

For most people, a wedding is where you celebrate the union of two people into one, officially. The ceremony is usually held in a church building and followed by a reception - either modest or extravagant. You put on a suit or a dress, purchase a gift off of a registry and celebrate, with the couple, their new union.

A pastor's eye view is a little different. A wedding is a capstone event - the end of a long process of preparation and the birthing event of a new phase in a relationship. If understood properly, a wedding is a covenant event, where two people unite, with God, witnessed by many of their closest friends and family members. It is a transitional event, where new family ties are born and old family ties are changed. Indeed, a new family is born out of two others.

I never cease to be amazed at weddings. I love how a bride looks at a groom. How a groom stands amazed at the beauty of the bride. They are both full of youth and joy. Then there is the wedding party - it is interesting to see how these people represent the loves, concerns and interests of the bride and groom. And oh how the bridal attendants smile and the groomsmen fidget! Although most wedding ceremonies last between 15 and 45 minutes, they usually pass in a blink of an eye for the participants. But what an amazing moment in time it is.

As a pastor, I see so many beautiful things in a wedding, most of them having nothing to do with hair styles, dresses, tuxedos or decorations. I see God do something special in two people. I do my best to prepare these two people for the this covenant and to spend the rest of their lives together understanding that the two become one flesh in a relationship sanctified and indwelled by the living God. What a fortunate man I am to be able to participate in such a beginning for two people!

So Thank you:

James and Connie
Josh and Amanda
Jacob and Olivia
Nick and Tracie
Paul and Heather
Jeff and Bethany
Matt and Jamie
Chris and Bridget
Brian and Lori
Nathan and Shannon
Nick and Jenny
Gabe and Megan
Joe and Kim
Kirk and Chris
Troy and Jennifer
David and Chamar
Troy and Stephanie
Chris and Tinnell
Frank and Teresa
Bob and Kerstin
John and Patricia
Preston and Norma
Dallen and Christina
Michael and Salwati

and the many others who have allowed me to be a part of their special day.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Texas football...

This blog is about our faith journey 99.9% of the time, but I've got to take a moment to address an issue: football. Like any southwestern born and bred adult of the past 40 years, I'm not only aware of, but also an ardent follower, even fan of American football. (I say American because I have friends across the Atlantic in England who read this blog.) I grew up bleeding the crimson and creme of Oklahoma University. I've watched Joe Washington and his silver shoes, Greg Pruitt, Steve Davis, Billy Sims and Adrian Peterson run back touchdown after touchdown for the Sooners. I remember when Uwe von Schamann kicked the game winning field goal for Oklahoma over Ohio State in 1977. I've played in the marching band as the Broken Arrow Tigers and the Cy-Fair Bobcats took the playing field in the late '70s and early '80s. I watched my Sam Houston State Bearkats, my Baylor Bears and of course my Howard Payne University Yellow Jackets play in both victory and defeat. I watched in satisfaction as my Navy Midshipmen defeated the much respected, Fisher Deberry coached Air Force Academy Falcons on a warm Annapolis Saturday in October 1993. I watched in satisfaction as my Baylor Bears beat the vaunted University of Texas Longhorns on a hot November day in 1997. I watched with satisfaction as the U.T. Longhorns defeated the USC Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl through the miraculous performance of Vince Young. I am a fan of the gridiron.

Now things are about to change. College football is about to become a lower priority on my list. Over the past 6 plus months, the Big 12 conference has been discussing the unthinkable - dissolution. Out of the north, the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Missouri Tigers are being courted by the Big 10. The University of Texas is being courted by the PAC-10 and everyone is taking sides as to whether the Baylor Bears deserve to play Division I football with anyone! A recent Houston Chronicle article drew over 140 comments as to whether or not Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU or TCU should be allowed to play in the Big 12 or the PAC 10. The fans and readers are screaming about Nebraska, Texas, Baylor, the Big 10, PAC 10 and anyone else within shouting distance.

What's all the fuss about? It would seem to be about money - television revenues to be exact - and simple pride: who's the best? The best would seem to be the conference who can get the the most lucrative television contract. The fuss is really not even about athletics - it's about football. It is certainly not about the fans. Most college football fans will not be able to travel some of the absurd distances involved if the Big 12 dissolves. If it were about 'total' athletics this would be a different blog. It's about football and money.

College athletics have now officially become "professional." I've never been a real fan of professional sports. Why? Because it reminds me how warped our society's entertainment values have become. Ancient Rome had the same problem. They went from the purity of the Olympic games to the blood lust of the Arena in a short 300 years: from marathon to gory gladiator quicker than history can blink an eye. And then Rome fell… Division I athletics have become a microcosm of our society's priorities and it should be scaring the daylights out of any intelligent American.

There was once a purity to college athletics. These men and women were scholar athletes. They earned their tuition dollars by competing for their school. Their goal was an education, athletics was a means to that end. They competed against other schools in the region for prestige, bragging rights and a trophy. But now its about television exposure, pro-contracts and indulgent alumni. Most promising NCAA Division I athletes are now drafted before they ever graduate. What happened to the scholar athlete? What has happened to our major universities and their priorities.

Times have changed. I am a Baylor alum and proud of it. I have Texas Aggie friends and a Longhorn loving father-in-law. But now more than ever, I am a fan of my Howard Payne University Yellow Jackets, an NCAA Division III school.

NCAA Division III athletics are non-scholarship. These students play because they love to play with little or no hope of being "drafted" or going on to professional athletic careers. They will become teachers, doctors, lawyers and ministers among other things. They truly play for "love of the game." They are my heroes.

So I say this to NCAA Division I football, "remember your roots and get it together fast, or you will become just like Rome quicker than you can blink an eye." You are already just a feeder league for the professionals.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What is it about wisdom teeth?

Today my daughter Catherine gets her wisdom teeth removed. I had mine removed when I was 20 and my wife had hers removed before then. I think most people get his or her wisdom teeth removed. Here is where my confusion sets in though: Of all the teeth to remove, why remove the 'wise' ones? If these teeth are the teeth that give us wisdom, why do we take them out? Why not remove some of the foolish teeth? We have several sets of molars so maybe we should remove one row of those. Even the name 'molar' suggests that it should be removed. Removes some molars then and let those wisdom teeth come on in! I mean hey, are we crippling ourselves as a race by removing those dental fixtures that are credited as being 'wise'? I mean, really?

Anyway, my daughter is a little bit jittery about the IV sedation and all that has to be done in her mouth today, and I don't blame her. I try to reassure her that it will be fine, but she doesn't do well with all of the needle talk. Hey, I don't either.

Life is tough though and sometimes to cultivate a little wisdom in life we must go through a little pain. Maybe that's what the story of wisdom teeth is about. We gain wisdom when we ride out and learn from the painful moments in life. I don't know. But I pray today that my daughter does well in her oral surgery.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Where there is no vision...

Proverbs 29:18 is an oft quoted passage, usually in the King James Version:

"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."

Personally, I am a fan of the New American Standard Updated edition:

"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law."

The New Living Translation gives yet another version, which is yet easier to grasp:

"When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy."

Each of these translations come close to the point:

Human beings need God to give them purpose and direction or they devolve into chaos and death.

Although I believe this is true for all human beings, this truth is absolute for God's people. You cannot be a Christian and not be led by God's vision. In other words, if you claim to be the church or even a church, and are not driven by God's vision, God's revelation, God's divine guidance, then you have missed the mark: you are a civic club with good intentions; but not the ekklesia; not the body of Christ.

This is a harsh conclusion, but what the prophets proclaimed to Israel was harsh, wasn't it? However, in a world where the church is rapidly shrinking, becoming irrelevant and losing influence, we desperately need insight not only into our plight, but into God's solution. The Church is the Body of Christ; God will not allow it to disappear. Nevertheless, God will not allow the church to thrive where it pursues its own self-driven agenda at the expense of God's purpose. This is Jeremiah's point in "The Potter's House" prophecy of Jeremiah 18. God is the potter and we are the clay. If the clay does not retain its shape, or fails in its purpose, then the potter begins again.

The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “Go down to the shop where clay pots and jars are made. I will speak to you while you are there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so the potter squashed the jar into a lump of clay and started again. [Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NASB95)]

The same is true of our personal lives in Christ. If you have claimed Christ, the expectation is that you will "take up your cross and follow." This does not mean that our walk in Christ is "perfect", "flawless" or even "without sin" - but it does mean that we are constantly seeking God's purpose or vision for the life He has given to us. If we are not seeking that divine guidance, then our lives will never be what God has destined them to be; indeed, if we are not seeking His vision, then the "anointing" falls upon those who are. This does not mean that you "lose your salvation" or are simply miserable. What it means is that you will not be what God destined you to be...and isn't that difficult enough?

The New Testament is all about God's vision for each one of us and for the church. Individually, God's vision for us is Jesus. He is our model, our exemplar. He is the nexus of truth, goodness and beauty. Jesus is what it means to be human. His vision for us is in Luke 10:27-37; it is in Matthew 16:24, Mark 10:21 and John 15:13 - to name a few parts of the vision for us.

But Jesus then calls us out of our radical individuality and into a radical corporality! His Spirit calls us into a new way of 'being' - we are incorporated into a larger community of persons that is governed by the Spirit and Vision of Christ. Indeed, we are no longer satisfied by the poor substitution of selfish desire, but only by the very presence of Christ. It is his "well done, good and faithful servant" that satisfies us. It is the fulfillment of His desire, His will and His vision that drives us. The person once ruled by selfish pursuits is now driven by the very love of Christ. Our unique personhood is placed into the service of the Kingdom of God, which is exactly that for which we were made. It is only there that we find true satisfaction and life.

Friends, enter into prayer today and ask God about His vision for you. Ask Him to reveal that which is getting in the way of embracing and embodying that vision. Then take up your cross and follow Him; for it is only when we are "crucified with Christ" that we can be the person or church we were destined to be.