Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Kids

I just dropped my son Josh off at the airport.  He flew in yesterday and spoke at our church last night.  I told him he hit a grand slam.  He had some really sweet things to say about the Decatur Church in his own blog today -- which you will find linked here.  What a blessing it has been this summer to have my sons speak this year on our summer series.

Beverly has taken my daughter and her best friend to San Antonio for the weekend to celebrate Jenny's 30th birthday.  My daughter-in-law Jennifer will meet them there, along with my granddaughter Jocelyn.

30!  I remember when I got to that age, I thought I was getting old.  Now I have a child that old!

They are going to some of our favorite places we used to go when the kids were little.  They will eat at the Market Square several times, I am sure.  I LOVE to eat there.  But Dad wasn't invited on the trip.  So, I went to Taco Bell for lunch today. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seek 1st HIS Kingdom!

As a minister of the gospel and a promoter of the Kingdom of God, I hope that no one knows what political party I vote for.  For the last 10-15 years, it has been assumed by many that if you are a faithful Christian you must vote Republican.  Truth be known:  I am so sick of American politics that I have become a member of the Cynic Party.

I am amazed that Christian people get involved in spreading lies about a candidate they disagree with -- and even convince themselves that it is their Christian duty!  Some of the emails I have received about Barack Obama are things the National Enquirer would not even print.  It's fine if you want to disagree with one's political views.  It is a SIN to spread gossip and slander.

But last night I was watching some of the Democratic convention, and I became equally disgusted with what I heard.  Many of the Democratic party have decided to paint John McCain as someone who cannot relate to the average American because he has seven houses.  They are beating this to pieces.

As I was watching this, I was thinking:  Every one of you are millionaires.  You have, for the most part, become millionaires through family money or by taking PAC contributions.  I don't know of a national politician who does not leave office as less than a millionaire.  And you are going to point the finger at John McCain?  He is known to be less accepting of PAC money than most any politician.  He is rich, yes.  His wife inherited multi-millions of dollars.  Why he has seven houses, I don't know.  But I doubt those pointing the fingers live in the projects and drive 12 year old cars.  Bill and Hillary Clinton have become extremely wealthy.  How?  By being "public servants."  (How ironic is that statement?)  It is the height of hypocrisy. 

Here are some more words from Countdown to Sunday, in a chapter on preaching during an election season:   
   Preaching should help us place our hope in Jesus Christ amid all the vain promises and endless words of campaign ads and convention hoopla . . . the best way to be involved, the best way to serve America (or any nation) is by being the church.  Disciples first.  Americans and Democrats and Republicans and whatever else, a distant second.
   It is terribly easy for preachers to unwittingly allow the Word of God to be domesticated and nationalized . . . it's a sin against Jesus Christ and his church; it puts the church in danger, and if the church is in danger, then so is the nation.  For what the nation most needs is the church, God's new nation among the nations, herald of hope for the world.  


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sermon Illustrations

I am actually reading three books right now -- two are spiritually related and one is for relaxation.  On our trip to Canada I picked up a Louis L'Amour book and really liked it.  So I will be reading his stuff for a year or so in my leisure (he was a prolific writer, and his books now sell in paperback for $3.99.  That's right up this tightwad's alley!)

But I am reading a book on preaching entitled Countdown to Sunday, by Chris Erdman.  He has a chapter on Illustration.  I have often struggled with the use of illustrations.  Obviously, Jesus and Paul both used them extensively.  But there are also inherent dangers.

Here's what Erdman (who is a post-modern preacher, by the way) says:  This business of sermon illustration, though so common, actually obscures the text of scripture we hoped to bring to the light of day (emphasis mine).  Sermons preached this way may draw the masses, but I can't be persuaded that this is preaching.  Speech-making, maybe.  Entertainment, yes.  But not preaching. 
   I used to illustrate my sermons this way too.  There were too many Sundays for too many years when folks shook my hand or wrote me notes after worship and said things like, "You're a great storyteller," or, "That story today really moved me."  For too long I liked those responses-- loved them even.  I got to the point where I preached for those responses and stewed in my frustration for a while after a sermon if I didn't get them.  
   But over time the frequent compliments grew thin, and something began to gnaw at my preacher's conscience.  I began to realize that people loved the stories I told, the illustrations that populated my well-crafted sermons, but showed little evidence that they were growing in their love for THE Story.  They were increasingly dependent on my words, but not on the Word.  That troubled me.  I began to long for someone to come out of worship, shake my hand, and say, "Preacher, the text came alive for me today, and I don't think I'll be able to shake it off.  It's disturbed something inside me, and it may well take the week to make some kind of sense about what it wants to do to us as a church."  I began to figure that if I could get that kind of response, then we as a church might really be on our way to being the people of God.  

Oh, how I want that to be the result of my preaching as well!  

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Beauty of Reconciliation

Here is a picture of Beverly and me in Juneau, Alaska, taken by Virginia Buchanan.  We had been warned to watch out for the bears.  If you click on the picture, it will make it bigger.   

Last week I kind of mentioned in passing about Beverly and me celebrating our anniversary.  I am so proud of her.  She has striven to be the best at whatever she undertakes.  She was an incredible stay-at-home mom.  When she began teaching, she won awards after just a couple of years that were normally given to teachers who had taught for 20 years or so.  And now as a counselor, she is helping to mend relationships that will affect families for generations to come.  Every day she gets to witness Satan losing another battle.

I thought of her as I read this poem this morning.  It was written by a child named Erika Chambers, as she witnessed her  own parents fall in love again.  Reconciliation is a beautiful thing!       

All is Right

Last night I saw you kiss her on the porch
I watched you from the window
Just before I turned my covers down
Now I can go to sleep and know
That everything is right
With the world, with the night
All is right.

I listen to you laugh outside my room
You're whispering your nothings,
And you don't think I can hear you
But when I go to sleep I know
That everything is right
With the world, with the night
All is right.

And I can rest my head upon
The thought of you still going strong
And I can dream of days I know will be
When a love like yours will find me

Tonight I watched you dancing in the dark
To music from a stereo you set beneath the stars
Now I can go to sleep and know
That everything is right
With the world, with the night
All is right.

All is right.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Variety of Topics

Yesterday marked Beverly's and my 32nd anniversary.  We are actually celebrating tonight.  It has been an incredible journey -- the process of two very different people becoming one.  We have gone through valleys and mountaintops.  We have so many rich memories to look back on.  But I don't want to dwell there.  I look forward to our future together.  Hopefully we are less than half way through our journey.

Today is a round-the-clock day of prayer at our church for students, teachers and the next school year.  Jacob and Heather do such a good job of putting this together, and Tanya Hamilton worked hard setting up and decorating the room.   What a blessing they are!

So the Chinese gymnastics team is in danger of losing some medals because they may have forged some birth certificates.  Earlier in the Olympics they did a story about how children are removed from their families and forced into training as gymnasts.  Even when they beg to come home, their families won't allow them to.  Apparently the government pays the families for the "use" of their kids.  Sad, so sad. 

We take SO much for granted in the U.S.  Yes, we have our problems.  But I have about had my fill of U.S. bashing -- and also, of church bashing (I am not intending to connect the two here.  The kingdom of Jesus is not of this world.  These are two separate things.)  It is so easy to find the faults in a system.  I would rather work within that system -- encouraging what is good and tweaking what might be done better.  The danger in only finding fault is that the faults become exaggerated disproportionately so that the good becomes blocked out. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Childlike Faith

Today I am conducting the funeral service of Gerald Polley.  Gerald passed away Saturday after a long and courageous battle with cancer. His younger brother died the day before of a cerebral hemorrhage after visiting Gerald.  This has been a really tough week for this family. 

One of the blessings in it, though, has been getting to see Brent and Kristi -- Gerald and Cheryl's oldest son and his wife.  They have recently moved to Mississippi, and I have missed them dearly.  Today in the service I am going to share a couple of observations from their young sons -- but I wanted to share them here too.

Brandon (about 8 years old) said, "I'm going to call Grandpa on his cell phone and ask him what heaven looks like."  He also wanted to know what kind of cake they would have at the funeral.

After Gerald had died Saturday, Topher (about 6) asked, "Has Grandpa's soul left his body?"   Being told that it had, he looked up toward the sky and waved.

The wisdom and faith of a child.  We can learn a lot.    

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Prayer: A Call to Action

In Yancey's book on prayer, in one chapter he talks about how prayer ought to spur us on to action.  I love the visual he gives when he writes, "Sometimes, like the boy who asks his parents to solve a math problem while he plays video games, we ask God for things we should be doing ourselves."  

Prayer is a call to action.  It is a call for me to get involved in kingdom business.  "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  How is that going to happen?  We have witness of it happening when Jesus walked this earth in the flesh.  His will is that it continue to happen through His body -- Christians.  To a significant degree, WE are the answer to that prayer. 

Monday, August 18, 2008

Olympic Pride

When we were in Alaska, we missed out on a week of Texas' worst heat.  Four days of 105 or above during that week!  Since we have come back, except for a couple of days, the weather has had a feel of Fall to it.  Highs in the 80s!  And this morning I awoke to RAIN!  With more in the forecast.  It is wonderful!

When I was a kid (in the midst of the Cold War), the Olympics were about which form of government was better.  We always wanted to beat those cheatin' Russians in the medal counts -- to prove a point (?).

Now that we find ourselves in a more global community, I don't watch the Olympics with quite the same nationalistic fervor.  Oh, I still root for the US of A.  But I enjoy watching the great athletes from around the globe.

I guess it's a good thing, because we are getting smoked by China!  As of this morning, China had 39 gold medals to our 21.  Take away Michael Phelps, and we would have a paltry 13!  Someone's saying, "Yeah, but we are leading in the total medal count."  And they would be right.  We are way ahead of China in silvers (23 to 14) and bronzes (26 to 14).  Yee-ha!  We are better at 2nd and 3rd place.  What is it someone once said?  Winning 2nd place is like kissing your sister.

Funny.  I looked on the Official Olympic website where it has listed the current TOTAL medal counts.  China has themselves listed 1st.

I am about to call and check on my brother and his family.  They live outside of Tampa, Florida.  Join me in praying that this hurricane brings them some much-needed rain without bringing destruction.         

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Are You Reading?

It was great returning to Crockett last night.  One of the elders who hired me 20 years ago this year -- his wife came straight to me as she walked in, saying in a loud voice, "There is my favorite person."  Wow.  It was a sweet evening.

I do a lot of reading.  I love to read, and that is good -- because that is such a large percentage of what I do.  But for relaxation, guess what I like to do?  Read.

I especially like fiction for my entertainment reading.  I have read everything by Frank Peretti.  I also like Randy Alcorn.  They both write Christian fiction.

But I love John Grisham.  I have also read all of his books.  I have tried to read Tom Clancy. One of his books I really enjoyed, but I have had trouble getting into other ones.  His books have made some really good movies, though.   And while on the Alaska trip, I picked up a paperback Louis L'amore book.  I am now on my 3rd one.  His books are pretty much the same, but yet enough different to hook you.  Old westerns.  Each one has the feel of an old western movie.  He was a prolific writer, so I might be reading him for a while.

What is your favorite read?   

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What a Story!

I came across the following quote from Edward Fudge that I found to be interesting:

He said some people "want a spiritual algebra book, full of precise formulas with exact answers in the back. But the Bible is instead a storybook -- the stories of God and his people. God creates people in relationship with him. People break relationship by sin. God seeks relationship through law. People break relationship by breaking law. God makes relationship with sinners through Jesus as a substitute and representative for People. People enjoy relationship with God through faith."

I used to be one of those people who carried my spiritual algebra book.  But more and more I am discovering that the Bible is a storybook -- the story of God's desire to have relationship with His ultimate creation.  That's not to say that there are not some exact answers and expected outcomes in it for us.  There are.  But from cover to cover -- it is a beautiful story! 

Beverly and I are headed to Crockett tonight where I will speak for their summer series.  I always love going back to where I began my ministry.  Many dear, dear people.   

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Olympics and Prayer

So have you been watching the Olympics?  I usually have them on, but am trying to read at the same time -- so it's a good thing I have DVR to rewind.  If it weren't for Michael Phelps, team USA would not even be close to China in the medals race.  Phelps is pretty incredible, huh?  And it seems that the golds he has won are in the events analysts said he would have the most difficulty with.  Could very well be that he will leave China with 8 golds!

Maybe it's just me, but are you getting a little tired of seeing Phelp's mother?  Even when another American won the anchor leg of the race Sunday night, the cameras seemed glued to her.  Enough!  

OK, enough grumping.  Beverly and Kayci and I were talking the other night as we watched the Olympics, and we were trying to think of cities in the southern hemisphere that have ever hosted.  Did you know there are only two?  Melbourne and Sydney, Australia.  I wonder why that is?  You would think Johannesburg or Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro or several other cities could be good choices.      

I'm reading Yancey's book, Prayer, and came across "A Franciscan Benediction."  I can't remember if I have shared this before, but thought it was worth citing.

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that yo may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may GOd bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.



Friday, August 08, 2008

Opening Ceremonies

I don't usually post on the weekends, but I just finished watching the opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympics. It was incredible! I loved the way the athletes walked across the canvas after stepping in paint. By the end, the canvas was a beautiful mixture of colors. What a wonderful statement of the way the Olympics bring the world together for 16 days every four years.

And the 9 year old boy who walked with Yao Ming! If your eyes didn't tear up at that, something is wrong. Just two months ago, he dug his way out of rubble after the devastating earthquake and then saved two of his fellow students. Wow!

I can't wait to see the story lines that develop out of this year's games.

This just in: Dwyane Wade drew 15 fouls as he walked in with the US team.

Back in the Lower 48

We are back from Alaska, although I am 8 pounds heavier (Ugh).  It was absolutely gorgeous.  We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife (a couple of grizzly bears appeared as specks in the binoculars, a few bald eagles, seals and a number of orcas), but the landscape was absolutely breathtaking!

One of the blessings was that we missed 10 days of the hottest weather in Decatur in a long time.  While it was 108 here, we were enjoying temperatures in the 60s (I just had to throw that in for Jeff). 

The highlight of the trip for me was when we went into port at Skagway.  It is the sight of the Alaskan gold rush of the late 19th century.  It still had a lot of the flavor of that era.  Lots of historical sights.  We took a train ride up to White Pass, where over 3,000 horses and many men lost their lives trying to navigate the treacherous pass on their way to "riches" in the Yukon (very few prospectors made any money).  The train ride was pretty treacherous, too!

Glacier Bay was an awesome sight as well:  watching the glaciers "calve" -- as slices of ice would fall into the water.  The sound was like a rifle shot as the ice would hit the water.

Someday I will have to tell you about the taxi driver we had in Vancouver (from Iraq) who I was afraid was about to go terrorist on us.

I would highly recommend this trip to anyone.

Next on the agenda:  Israel in November.