Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Christian America?

As he so often has done, I came across some words from Philip Yancey (Finding God in Unexpected Places) that express feelings I have had over the last several years. People in Christian circles tend to assume that I am on the "religious right" bandwagon. For a while, I was. But my perspective has drastically changed. So let Yancey's words express for me better than I can myself:

I have often heard this verse quoted as a formula for national revival: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7: 14). Yet that promise was given as part of God's covenant relationship with the ancient Hebrews . . . Have we any reason to assume God has a similar covenant arrangement with the USA?

The New Testament seems to introduce a major shift: God is now working not primarily through nations, but through an invisible kingdom that transcends nations. Jesus stressed "the kingdom of Heaven" as the central focus of God's activity on earth, a kingdom that permeates society so as to gradually affect the whole, like salt sprinkled on meat.

As I now reflect on Jesus' stories of the kingdom, I sense that much uneasiness among Christians today stems from a confusion of the two kingdoms, visible and invisible. Each time an election rolls around, Christians debate whether this or that candidate is "God's man" for the White House. Projecting myself back into Jesus' time, I have difficulty imagining him pondering whether Tiberius, Octavius, or Julius Caesar -- not to mention Nero or Caligula -- was "God's man" for the empire. What took place in Rome was on another plane entirely from the kingdom of God.

At various points in U. S. history (the 1850s, the time of Prohibition, and more recently during the Moral Majority movement of the 1980s), the Christian church has marked an ascendancy into politics. Now, it appears, the church and politics may be heading in different directions. The more I understand Jesus' message of the kingdom of God, the less alarm I feel over that trend. Our real challenge, the focus of our energy, should not be to Christianize the United States (always a losing battle) but rather to strive to be Christ's church in an increasingly hostile world. As Karl Barth said, "[The Church] exists . . . to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to [the world's] own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise."

When we have attempted to tie Christianity to America, we have left the impression in the world that financial corruption, materialism and graphic sex are "Christian." Thus much of the reason for Islam's rejection of Jesus. This is sad.

Weather, Michael and Junkers

OK, a couple of days ago I wrote complaining about the lack of rain here in Decatur. Well, last night we were blessed with 2-1/2 inches! Nice. This weather pattern has been a welcomed break from the normal late-July weather. Highs in the upper 80s and low 90s!

I feel badly for the people in south Texas who are in a SEVERE drought. There is hope on the horizon, however. An El Nino has developed that should bring more than normal rainfall to Texas over the coming months. Let's hope (and pray) so.

I have affirmed in an earlier blog that Michael Jackson was one of the most talented artists in my lifetime. However, it really is time to move on to something else, news people! GMA this morning was interviewing his chef! Come on!

Just curious, because I'm not REAL sure how I feel about it myself. How do you feel as a tax payer to know that you are subsidizing someone's clunker trade-in to the tune of $4,500 so that they can buy a new car?

I have changed the settings on my comment section of this blog. I had a filter in place to prevent spam, but as a result some people were having trouble posting a comment. So now, if you comment -- it will not appear until I can approve it. This way I can still prevent spammers from hitting my blog. But this should allow for anyone to comment.

Let me know if you try to comment, but can't.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marriage and Culture

Years ago, J. D. Unwin wrote a book entitled Sex and Culture, in which he studied 86 different societies. His findings startled scholars. All 86 cultures demonstrated a direct tie between absolute monogamy and the "expansive energy" of civilization. In other words, sexual fidelity was the single most important predictor of a society's progress.

Unwin had no religious convictions and applied no moral judgments to his study. Here are his concluding words:

"I offer no opinion about rightness or wrongness. In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on prenuptial and post-nuptial continence."

Will America be the exception? Or will we be wise enough to see where we are headed, and repent? Time will tell. But we Christians must be salt and light in living out a model designed by God. When we look and act and break covenant as regularly as the pagan, what hope does the world have?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wii, Drought and Michael Vick

Previously I have mentioned that Beverly got me a Wii for Christmas. When Jed, Jocelyn and Malaya were here last week, Jed wanted to play Wii. I was at work at the time, so Jonathan got them fixed up to play bowling, and Beverly joined them. She has gotten so into it that now every evening, she and I head to the bowling alley (on the Wii in our bedroom). It really is fun.

Here in Decatur we are in the strangest weather pattern! Since May, we have had about 1/2 inch of rain. If you drew a 15-mile circle around us, you would find that everyone has had multiple inches of rain in that same time span. Yesterday as many areas had flash floods, I recorded 2/10ths of an inch. Very strange. We are desperately in need of a gully washer here.

So Michael Vick has been reinstated. Here's a shocker: PETA has threatened to boycott any team that signs him. I have a couple of thoughts about that:
1. I doubt members of PETA would be a huge fan base in any market.
2. Vick has paid his dues -- more severe than what many athletes have paid for crimes. I am certainly not defending what he did, but it seems that vehicular manslaughter or possibly being an accessory to a murder are not considered to be as serious of crimes as "dogfighting." Give the guy a 2nd chance.

What do you think?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Influencing the Nations

Chew on this observation from M. Scott Peck, author of A Road Less Traveled:

It is notable that two hundred years ago this new nation spent virtually no money and no energy attempting to control the behavior of the other nations of the world. Yet one by one, almost ten by ten, the peoples of these nations followed our spiritual and political example to seek the same freedoms for themselves. It is hard to escape the conclusion that in the years since, our political and spiritual leadership has declined in inverse proportion to the increasing amounts of money and effort we have expended to manipulate other countries . . . I wonder, if we in the United States were to concentrate -- as our overwhelmingly major priority -- on making ourselves the best possible society we can be, whether the nations of the world might once again, without any pressure except the influence of example, begin to emulate us.

Sounds like Jesus -- being salt and light.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's LIke Christmas Eve

Tonight, my son Jonathan will be speaking at our church. He has been on staff at the Bammel Road Church of Christ in Houston for several years now. He is a worship leader, but also an excellent speaker. I am looking forward to seeing him and his family.

Do you remember the feeling you had as a kid on Christmas eve? Let me tell you who are not yet grandparents: That is the same feeling I have when my grandkids are coming. Last night, Jonathan and his family stayed in Keller with my daughter, Jenny and her family. We are fortunate to have them closer, as we get to see Malaya (grandchild #1) fairly regularly. But we still get excited about that, too!

So, Beverly and I have been on pins and needles! They should arrive here around noon today. I can't wait to see Jed and Jocelyn!

And we are really missing Truitt! His brother will be joining us in a month or so -- due at the end of August. Noah James will be his name. Again, it's like Christmas eve. The trip to Memphis when we get word is going to seem like forever.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grisham's Latest

I love John Grisham's books. Maybe I should say I used to. I just finished his latest one -- The Associate. I cannot stand to read a book and become connected with a character, and then have too many loose ends left. Grisham leaves the reader to wonder what in the world happened to Kyle -- the lead character. Too many possibilities are available -- and many not good ones.

This falls after his last book, The Appeal. An excellent story. But it ended so disappointingly for me that I teasingly threw the book across the room and told Beverly, "I hate that book!"

Maybe I just want too much predictability to stories. I want them to end happy and completed. I wonder if there is a correlation between that and actual life. Because I like when life goes that way, too. I like when things go according to script: predictable and optimistic.

Oh, well. There's always a ton more Louis L'amour books to read.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"That's One Small Step for Man . . ."

Well, I had my heart ripped out again yesterday. After Tom Watson birdied 17 and took a one-shot lead and then hit a perfect drive on 18, my eyes were already tearing up as I considered what an incredible moment I was watching. And then, before you could blink an eye -- it seemed that the dream was over.

Something in me is wanting to say, "Oh, well. Maybe next time." But that is not reality. When is the last time a 59 year old led a major championship into the 72nd hole? My guess is never.

For those of you over about 45, do you remember where you were 40 years ago today? I was 12 years old, living in Austin, Texas. I had stayed up late to watch the 1st step on the moon. The next morning, I played in a junior golf tournament.

In my growing up years, astronauts, along with athletes, were our heroes. I used to could name every Mercury, Gemini and Apollo crew. It was exciting times, as we Americans tried to beat the Russians in the space race. And on this day, 40 years ago, we won. As the Viet Nam War dragged one, this was something we could be proud of.

So, should we send a manned mission to Mars? I don't know. It seems like there are more pressing needs we have as a country. But if the decision was made -- I'd be watching.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Seeking HIS Kingdom

In the introduction to his book Finding God in Unexpected Places, Philip Yancey relates the following story:

Theologian John S. Dunne tells of a group of early Spanish sailors who reached the continent of South America after an arduous voyage. Their caravels sailed into the headwaters of the Amazon, an expanse of water so wide the sailors presumed it to be a continuation of the Atlantic Ocean. It never occurred to them to drink the water, since they expected it to be saline, and as a result some of these sailors died of thirst. That scene of men dying of thirst even as their ships floated on the world's largest source of freshwater has become for me a metaphor for our age. Some people starve to death spiritually while all around them manna rots.
People shake their heads in despair over the state of the world despite the fact that by many measures -- literacy, nutrition, clean water, housing -- things have decidedly improved in the past fifty years.

He goes on to mention the fall of the iron curtain, the ending of apartheid in South Africa, the great revival taking place in China (over 100 million Chinese now claim the name of Jesus).

We tend to get bogged down over a couple of issues in America -- and see nothing but gloom and doom. Please don't hear me saying those issues are not important. But let's not become so obsessed that we lose sight of the bigger picture. The Kingdom of God is advancing in this world. Let's look for His movement -- and join Him there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

T. B. Larimore

One of the books I read last week was Will The Cycle be Unbroken, by Douglas Foster. It deals with where we, Churches of Christ, are as a part of the American Restoration Movement. I was especially drawn to one of the Restoration leaders, T. B. Larimore (1843-1929). He lived in a time when there was great turbulence in the movement, and yet he refused to get involved in the "issues" of the day. He is one of my spiritual heros.

Larimore had a former student that tried to "guilt" him into taking sides on issues like instrumental music in worship, church conventions, located preachers, etc. These were, by the way, issues over which the Restoration Movement split about 100 years ago. I know it is fairly lengthy, but I want to share Larimore's response:

To which -- or what -- party do I belong in this unfortunate controversy? That's the question. Had I "spoken out" on "matters" mentioned in your "open letter," this question had never arisen; for all had known. Your letter is proof positive, then, that you and THOUSANDS of other friends before whom "my life is an open book" believe I have never "spoken out," have never expressed an opinion or a preference -- on ANY of these things. THAT IS TRUE. NEVER, publicly or privately, have I expressed opinion or preference relative to ANY of these "matters" . . . over which brethren are wrangling and disputing and dividing the church of Christ -- NEVER . . . I am sorry to disappoint any of my friends; but it is certainly clear my duty, to . . . leave the discussion of all such questions to wiser, better, abler men, and just simply "PREACH THE WORD," avoiding, always, all question that "do gender strifes" among the children of God. WIser and better men do otherwise, however, and some good brethren may deem it their duty to denounce, renounce, criticize, censure, condemn, boycott and abuse me, and refuse to recognize, fellowship or affiliate with me, because I am as I am, do as I do, and, especially, because I have written what I have written in answer to your "open letter." I shall certainly never retaliate. I shall simply do as I have ALWAYS done: "love the brethren"; be true to my convictions; endure as patiently as possible whatsoever may come upon me; go when and where I am wanted and called, if I can; carefully avoid all questions that "do gender strifes" among God's people; "PREACH THE WORD"; try to do MY WHOLE DUTY, and GLADLY leave ALL results with HIM from whom all blessings flow."

Oh, how I want to leave such a legacy! Larimore ended up as a man with no home -- as neither side accepted him. But he remained true to his convictions that sowing discord is one of the things God abhors.

I leave you with these words from Larimore: "If Christians thought they had to do something with the questions (meaning "issues"), it would be better to sit on them, and to stand on Christ and him crucified."


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Week in Florida

We are back in Texas after spending 8 days in Florida. It was a great week. The resort where Beverly's conference was held was beautiful. Our room faced a golf course (making this guy very happy).

Last Monday, my brother John and his wife and some friends came over from Bradenton (near Tampa). While Beverly was in conference, the ladies went to SeaWorld and the guys went to play golf. We then went out to dinner together. It was a great day.

On Tuesday, I rented a car and drove to Saint Augustine to the World Golf Hall of Fame. I really enjoyed my day there, and got back in time to hear Gary Chapman, a keynote speaker for the conference. I also got to hear the ministerial staff from the church that made the movie "Fireproof" at a Wednesday luncheon. What a story! And I went to a banquet on Thursday night and heard John Gray as well.

Each day I spent 6 hours or more with Philip Yancey (through his books), reading about American Restoration history, and finally a book on church history. It was great! Several evenings, I played golf.

Beverly was in conference from 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM most days. On Saturday, she got out at 5:30, and wanted to go with me as I played golf. We got to the 3rd hole and it began to rain. So I drove the cart under a building at the far end of the course. The rain kept getting worse and worse until it was flooding. We finally decided to make a dash to the clubhouse. Bad mistake! I could not tell how deep the water was, and we got flooded out. Stuck halfway back in a monsoon! The water was coming up over the floor of the cart. So I took off my shoes and socks and got out in the water and pushed the cart out. Beverly just knows she felt an alligator brush her leg.

I called the pro shop, and they sent someone out to rescue us. We were soaked by the time we got back -- but were cracking up at the whole thing.

It was a great week, but it's always good to be home.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Classified Ads

These are real, honest-to-goodness classified ads. I hope they show up clearly.

The cheapskate in me is considering a name change.
The knife, baseball bat and billy club didn't really get Mr. Davis' attention. But the deadly rolling pin? Sounds like his wife had broken him in on its dangers.
Hard for me to believe, how about you? How lucky can the Feds get?

Yes, we English-reading folks immediately picked up on that blatant error.

And people think dogs aren't smart! Apparently, they are all multi-lingual.

Steven Curtis Chapman

I would refer you to my son Josh's blog ( or click on the link on my blogsite) and watch the clip of Steven Curtis Chapman receiving a dove award for artist of the year. He is an incredible person of faith -- as is his entire family. Last year about this time, one of his sons accidentally backed over and killed one of his daughters in the family's driveway. Their journey of faith has been painful, but one they have shared publicly. I watched them on Larry King Live as they openly admitted to their pleas of "Why, God?" -- while still holding firmly to their trust in Him.

These kinds of people are not the ones who get the national media press. Imagine if a Hollywood celebrity's child was killed in a similar accident! But they are certainly the salt and light and quietly-working leaven of the world -- which each of us has also been called to be. THESE are the difference-makers.

God's blessing on the Chapman family!