Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Cross

This Sunday I am going to begin a 3 week series on the cross. Take it back to its original setting, and the cross is a scandal. It would be like taking on the symbol of a hangman's noose. That scandal was a stumbling block to Jews that prevented many of them from accepting Jesus as Messiah. It was equally as revolting to the Romans.

The cross has lost its scandal. It has become for us an almost sentimental symbol. We think of Jesus there -- and we cry. Or, in today's religious climate -- many talk around it. "Sacrifice? Blood? That seems barbaric. Let's just talk about the love of God." But you can't talk about the love of God without going to the cross.

We need to return to the crisis of the cross. The cross is not something we simply acknowledge. It is something we take up. We are to share in Jesus' suffering. it is a symbol of denial. It is a symbol of surrender. Yes, it is even a symbol of death.

It is scandalous! Yet the irony is: It is our only hope.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

And That's the News

I would invite you to take a look at my friend Jeff Jones' blog today. The link is to the side of my blog. He brings up some interesting thoughts about the Lord's Supper. I wonder if we are aware at all how much what we do in our worship services today has been shaped by the transition in the early years from meeting in homes to meeting in cathedrals. Within our current model, it's hard to know how to translate the intent of the early church's worship.

Interesting tidbits from the news:
1. Last night, Charlie Gibson reported that "experts" are saying gas will be $4 a gallon by late spring. Yee-haa! I bet Exxon-Mobil is giddy. Their record quarterly profits should go even higher as they drive our country into recession. If gas goes up another dollar, that will affect the price of everything. The oil companies have helped to establish a society that is so dependent upon gasoline that they can now do whatever they want. Here again, my cynicism comes out. But I am VERY cynical about the major oil companies. I think they control the politics and wars of much of the world.

2. It seems like only a couple of years ago, I was hearing that African elephants were close to extinction. I read an article this morning that said the elephants have recovered so quickly that several African governments are thinking about killing some of them. They are putting a huge strain on the food and water supply.

3. People will be making a huge fuss over Barack Obama donning the traditional clothing of his native homeland when he went for a visit. I'm sure this will fuel those who perpetuate the slanderous rumor that he is an Islamic terrorist. Yet it has been the custom for a long time for American visitors to wear the clothing of the native people so as not to offend them.

4. In America, people are bailing out on their traditional religious upbringings. They are either giving up the Christian faith all together, or opting for a "more individual" faith (meaning "I can be a Christian and not be a part of a church." This ought to challenge us as a church to ask, "What can we do to better communicate our message?" Where have we failed in our representation of community and fellowship? I find it especially sad because as more and more people are working in cubicles or from their homes, isolation is going to be a tremendous problem. People will need community more than ever. But our culture is making it harder and harder.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Praise to God

Nearly a year ago at our church, we got involved in a program called "Friend Speak." It is a program that teaches conversational English. For the 1st few months, the going was slow. But in recent months, the numbers of people coming have really picked up. And then last night, we were able to witness the new birth of one of our readers. I was brought to tears as one of our members who has been his reading partner spoke of how they had become close friends over the last year.

As I witnessed our brothers baptism last night, I thought back over the last month or so. I don't think there has been a time in which we were meeting for the last 4 or 5 weeks in which we have not been able to witness a new birth. In fact, there have even been a few instances where it was a gathering on a weeknight.

It is an exciting time to be a part of the Decatur Church of Christ. I'm not sure what the Lord is doing, but I sure want to be a part of it! I just pray He will bless me with eyes to be able to see His activity -- and jump into it!

Praise to You, our gracious Father!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Oscars and Morality

After two rounds of the Accenture Match Play Championship, the totals are: Beverly, 33-15, Rick 29-19.

As we get ready in the mornings and eat breakfast, Beverly and I watch Good Morning, America. This morning was almost totally about the Oscars. I hear that this is one of the most watched shows of the year. But I don't know anyone who watches it. Years ago I did occasionally, but I got sick of the winners' patronizing political speeches. They all seemed to say, "You lowly people of America are not nearly as enlightened as we actors are. The world would be so much better if we had more abortion rights and gay marriage."

Does anyone out there actually watch this?

There was another feature this morning: A preview of tonight's 20/20. Apparently, they secretly recorded people who had been put in situations in which they had to make moral decisions. The one they showed this morning involved a woman who had a friend who has just moved in with a man in a "committed relationship" (we used to call a committed relationship "marriage," but not in this wiser, more enlightened society). The set-up is that the man goes to a restaurant with another woman , where this friend happens to also be dining. The question: Will the woman tell her friend or not? My thought was that if she is a moral person she will tell her friend that living together outside of marriage is immoral. But obviously, that was not an issue here.

The "new morality." New? No, actually it is strikingly similar to the morality of the Roman Empire of 2,000 years ago -- in its waning years before it fell apart from within.

Sorry to be so cynical today. So, have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Idol and Golf

Beverly and I have been watching American Idol as we multitask on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. She is usually doing job related computer work and I am usually reading. But it seems to me that there is better talent this year than in years past. Of course we already have our favorites.

Tiger Woods keeps adding to his legendary career. I was working out yesterday afternoon before church and watched one of the most incredible comebacks I've ever seen. He is really incredible.

This week they are playing the Accenture Match Play championship. There needs to be more match play tournaments in professional golf. They are fun to watch. Anyway, it is bracketed -- with 64 golfers playing 32 matches. I took two copies of the bracket home at lunch yesterday, and Beverly and I each filled one out. Well, guess what? She drummed me! She had 23 wins and 9 loses. I had 19 wins and 13 loses. Maybe I can catch up in round two.

I was cracking up as I listened to her reasoning in her choices. "I don't like Rory Sabbatini (who was a 3rd seed)." So she picked his opponent -- who won!

She's being a real good sport about it. Hasn't rubbed it in at all. Other than telling her ladies' class last night. And constantly telling me that she will be glad to help me with my picks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anniversaries and Phobias

I read this yesterday in a "Smart Marriages" email:

Clarence, 101, and Mayme Vail, 99, celebrated their 83rd anniversary Sunday, possibly making them the longest married couple alive in the United States.

Wow! I can only hope as much for myself. Isn't that incredible?

I was watching Good Morning America this morning. They are doing a segment right now in which each of the people on the show is confronting a fear he or she has. Robin Roberts already did hers. I think they went easy on her since she is recovering from cancer surgery and chemo. But hers was appearing in a fashion show. Today Chris Cuomo faced his fear of heights. He jumped from a 50+ story building in Atlantic City. Of course he had cables attached to him, etc. But as he was being urged by the stunt director to push himself off the ledge of the building, I could feel exactly what he was feeling. His fingers were holding onto the concrete lip of the building -- and he did not want to let go. My body was tensing up just watching him.

I don't fear heights like being on a roof or in an airplane. But standing on the edge of a cliff or at the top of a building gives me the willies. As a result of Tim McGraw's song, "Live Like You Are Dying " -- I have challenged myself in some ways to things I would not normally do. A couple of years ago, I did the bungie chair thing. And I NEARLY went skydiving with my boys last summer. I know, nearly doesn't count. But for me to have even considered it is a big step.

I think my only other phobia is rats and mice. They creep me out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Minibytes

Beverly and I are so blessed to have kids by marriage who will come to stay with us. I don't know how they could honor us more. This weekend we have had Kayci and Truitt with us -- and we have been BLESSED! There is no feeling like a baby smiling at you or falling asleep on your chest. It has been great!

Well, it looks like the "Kidd" trade is going to go through after all. I guess once it leaked, they could hardly go back. That would have left those who had been involved in the trade feeling on the outside. I still think it is a bad trade.

I heard on the news this morning about a program in inter-city schools -- funded by donations, not tax dollars -- to pay kids for making good grades. My 1st reaction is "That is ridiculous." But not being an educator, I don't know. What do you think?

Here is a quote from Deitrich Bonhoeffer, one of my heroes in the faith. It sounds a lot like a commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:

In a Christian community, everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them. It will be well, therefore, if every member receives a definite task to perform for the community, that he may know in hours of doubt that he, too, is not useless and unusable. Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the fellowship.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sports Talk

There are several sports-related stories I am following right now that are of interest:
1. The Roger Clemens story is one of the most bizarre since the O. J. trial. I admit my bias. I was against Barry Bonds nearly from the start because of his career-long attitude problems. But I was wanting Clemens to come out OK. But after hearing some of his testimony, I'm beginning to think that every time he opens his mouth -- he looks more guilty.

You would think these athletes would learn that if they would just tell the truth--the public is pretty forgiving. For instance, Jason Giambi and Andy Pettite have just admitted it-- and it is forgotten. The ones who continue with negative public sentiment are Mark McGwire, Raphael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds.

And why are America's tax dollars being spent on Congress being involved in this? You would think they have enough on their plates with the national debt, health care, social security and a war.

2. The Blockbuster trade bust. When I heard about the Mavs trade Wednesday night, I was thinking, "This sounds like another Hershel Walker deal." Jason Kidd? I like him. He has been one of the most exciting players in the league since his days with the Mavs. But why trade an up-and-coming point guard (Devin Harris) for a 35 year old worn out one? I'm kind of grateful that Devean George has blocked it. If the Mavs need anything different, they should have gone after Kevin Garnett.

3. I'm interested in the possibility of Darren McFadden being a Cowboy. I know some of you think that Marion "the Barbarian" Barber is the answer to the running back position. I think an all-purpose back like McFadden would be a tremendous boost the the Cowboys. Other than safety, I think this is their greatest need. Go get him, Jerry!

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Last night in our men's class we talked about brokenness. I made the comment that God cannot REALLY use us until we are broken. We talked about how there are differing degrees of brokenness. For some, it may be as dramatic as Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus. For others, as me at one point in my life -- it was an awakening to the wonder of God's grace. It made me aware of my sin and broke my heart.

The church should be a magnet for the broken. However that is not always the case, as the following story illustrates:

Fred Smith loves to ask people this question: "If you were caught for drunken driving, and the headlines in your local newspaper that Sunday morning said, 'So-and-so Arrested for Drunken Driving,' would you go to church?"

I've watched men blanch when Fred asked that question. When he asked it of me, I said: "Fred, I'm the preacher. I'd have a serious problem if I were caught driving drunk."

He asked, "Would you go to church?"

And I said, "No. I'd take a sabbatical for about a month and then try to weasel back in if I could."

And he said, "Steve, that's stupid. It's sort of like a man who's hit by an automobile, and he's got blood all over the place, and his bones are broken, and they try to take him to the hospital, and he says: 'Wait. I'm a mess. Let me go home and get cleaned up. Let me get these bones set, let me heal, and then I'll go to the hospital.'"

I grew up in churches like that. I pray to God that the Decatur church NEVER be that. EVER!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Holy Spirit: Wild-eyed Fanatics

Listen to these observations from A. W. Tozer, probably written 30 years or so ago. I think his illustration applies to a number of things we have done through the years -- determining our "faith" by knee-jerking to that of others. I pray that we might base what we believe and practice on the Word of God and not as a reaction against something else.

The Holy Spirit: Wild-eyed Fanatics

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. --1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

This is a crude illustration, but let me tell you what we did after planting a field of corn when I was a young fellow in Pennsylvania. To save the field of corn from the crows, we would shoot an old crow and hang him by his heels in the middle of the field. This was supposed to scare off all of the crows for miles around. The crows would hold a conference and say, "Look, there is a field of corn but don't go near it. I saw a dead crow over there!"

That's the kind of conference that Satan calls, and that is exactly what he has done. He has taken some fanatical, weird, wild-eyed Christians who do things that they shouldn't, and he has stationed them in the middle of God's cornfield, and warns, "Now, don't you go near that doctrine about the Holy Spirit because if you do, you will act just like these wild-eyed fanatics." The Counselor, 63.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."
C. S. Lewis

I came across this quote this morning. It got me to thinking how often I do that. I will say something is "awesome." You don't get much better than awesome. In fact, truth be known -- only God is awesome. So when I say a meal or a movie or a golf shot was awesome, what word is left beyond that to describe something that truly is awesome?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Devo and Pebble

We hosted the junior high and high school devo at our house last night. It was wonderful to see nearly 40 kids singing praises to God. Of course, Beverly outdid herself in the food preparation department. I feel so blessed to be part of a church with such a great youth group. Obviously that reflects on the parents. But I give a lot of credit to Jacob and Heather, too (our youth minister and his wife). They are awesome!

I was watching the golf tournament for a while yesterday. It was at Pebble Beach. What a gorgeous place! About half of the holes actually run right along the Pacific coast -- with breakers crashing in down below. Sea lions were sunning on the rocks. Whales were surfacing. Wow!

Did you know that Pebble Beach is a public golf course? That's right. Of course, you have to get a tee time about a year in advance. The cost for a round of golf? $495 -- not including a cart.

Friday, February 08, 2008

News of the Week

Interesting items in the news this week:

1. Mitt Romney postpones his campaign. This came as a huge surprise to me. I guess he figured he had won all the states he had a shot at. This is leaving much of the Republican party in a quandry, since they have been so critical of John McCain. Seems that he is just not conservative enough for many.

2. Bobby Knight resigns from Texas Tech mid-season. Here's a guy who has always been so hard on his players about not giving their all -- and he just quits. I don't know, maybe there is something going on in his personal life. I thought Jay Leno's comments were funny. Explaining why Knight walked away: "He said he wants to spend more time throwing furniture at his own family." Then Leno added, "You could tell he was a little old . . . like last week, he threw a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed."

3. Willie Nelson has come out saying that we have all been fooled by our government about 9-11. He said that it was not foreign terrorists who committed those atrocities. He believes that the buildings were imploded. I think Willie has been smoking the loco weed way too long.

4. Nolan Ryan has accepted the job as President of the Texas Rangers. Bless your heart, Nolan. You are a cult hero in Texas. And you want this to be a part of your legacy? Just a thought: Maybe Nolan will come out of retirement. I bet even at his age, he could improve the Rangers' pitching staff.

5. If you want to see a cute video (golfers will especially like it), go to and enter "Tiger Traps." Then watch the video. I am coming out of the closet to admit something today: If I have a man-crush, it is for Tiger Woods. Not only is he an incredible athlete, he is just a good person.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"I Believe in Prayer"

I don't want to be a Pharisee -- a nitpicker. Yet I know that is my tendency sometimes. For instance, I can't stand when people say "Revelations" instead of "Revelation." John had one revelation -- and that is what he wrote down. But I digress into my Phariseeism already.

Here is the thing. And if I am being nit-picky please tell me. I was listening to Good Morning America this morning. They were interviewing a couple who had been caught in an avalanche -- and survived (obviously, or they would not have been interviewing them:)) The man said that he thinks pray delivered them. He then said something to the effect of "I really believe in prayer. Whoever you pray to -- pray!"

I hear Christians say, "I believe in prayer." Or "Prayer works." I know what they are saying, but for some reason it bothers me. Hindus believe in prayer. Muslims believe in prayer. Buddhists believe in prayer. Wiccans believe in prayer. Is that all that is necessary is to believe in prayer? For some reason, it leaves me with a feeling of human achievement -- like WE have accomplished something because we pray.

I believe in Jehovah. And I believe He hears my prayers. And I am becoming more and more convinced that the main accomplishment of prayer is to shape my will to His. Prayer is not like a magic potion or an amulet. Prayer does not obligate God to obey my directives. Prayer is to humble me.

So, am I being nit-picky?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fat Tuesday

Today is "Fat Tuesday." As I read more about church history, I gain a greater appreciation for why certain practices and traditions came into being. For instance, the season of "Lent." While certainly not a binding command, Lent has proven to be spiritually profitable for many. It is the idea of giving up something for the 40 days preceding Easter -- so that one can be reminded through that sacrifice of the supreme sacrifice of Jesus.

When I was growing up, the only people I knew who practiced Lent were Catholics. Among my friends, it was too often trivialized. "I'm giving up bubble gum." "I'm giving up Pepsi, but I'll drink Coke." Today, however, I know of many Christians who have begun practicing Lent. Certainly the spiritual discipline of fasting is encouraged in Scripture. And that is what Lent is; it is a form of fasting (giving up) for 40 days.

But today is Fat Tuesday. And for the life of me, I cannot figure this one out. It seems to be completely hedonistic. I have been unable to find any redeeming value in it. The premise is: "Tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) begins Lent. So, since we are going to be giving up something for 40 days, let's indulge ourselves today. And so, people get drunk, commit fornication and adultery, etc. Today is when the Mardi Gras parades take place. If you can see anything resembling Jesus in all of that, PLEASE let me know. I have to think that it breaks His heart every year to witness that -- and actually have people think He condones it.

So Bill "the Cheater" Belichick couldn't even hang around until the game was over. Did you see that Sunday night? I know there was only 1 second left -- and one more play to run. But the official was almost begging him to return to the sidelines, and he shoved him aside so he could get to the locker room and sulk. CLASSLESS. He is being roasted by the media, and for good reason. Professional sports needs less of this childish behavior.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Super Super Bowl!

I guess you know what I am going to write about this morning. Yes, the Super Bowl. Wow! What a great game. I think I would have felt like that even if the Giants had lost. Eli Manning's scramble and throw to David Tyree will have to go down as one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.

I want to walk up to Bill "the Unibomber" Belichick and say, "Cheaters never win. Na-ny-na-ny na-noo." But I guess since he has three Super Bowl rings and went 18-1 that wouldn't make much sense, would it?:)

I know that many Cowboy fans were rooting for New England because they could not bring themselves to root for one of Dallas' division foes. I guess I view that differently -- at least this year. This makes Dallas' loss to the Giants in the playoffs a little bit more palatable. They played them as well as the Patriots did. And they didn't just lose to a wildcard team. They lost to the hottest team going into the playoffs -- who eventually won the Super Bowl.

And how about Eli Manning and Coach Tom Coughlin? From goats to heroes in a matter of a few weeks. I saw Dion Sanders last night and they were talking about Coflin. Sanders just kept screaming, "Pay him! Pay the man!"

Speaking of the Super Bowl, I know I missed many of the commercials because we had Sunday night services. But it seemed like a pretty dud year. I had DVRed the game. Are there any commercials that I need to go back and watch? What's the deal with the fast food chains right now? It seems like they are all trying to be as sexually suggestive as they can be. From Taco Bell to Jack in the Box to Arby's. What's going on with that?

Friday, February 01, 2008

February Blues

It's February 1st. My guess is that if a vote were taken on what your least favorite month of the year is, it would either be January or February. So maybe it's a good thing that February is so short.

Do you know why it is the shortest month? In the western world, we go by the Julian Calendar -- established by Julius Caesar. July is named after him, and it has 31 days. August had been named for his successor, Augustus Caesar. August had only 30 days, and that did not sit well with the new emperor. How could he allow Julius' month to have more days that his? So he took a day away from February so that his month would also have 31 days.

I wonder why he chose February though? Why not January or May or March or October or December that already had 31 days?