Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Items In the News

Perusing through the news and events of the day . . .

1. All the talk around the beaches of southern California has been about the fatal shark attack last Friday. A swimmer was killed by the bite of a Great White Shark off Solana Beach near Carlsbad, California. Certainly a great tragedy and a cause for concern. But, I found this tidbit of trivia interesting: the USA Today reported that , "in 1995 there were 95 incidents of squirrels biting humans in New York City, compared with 13 shark injuries reported in the USA" during the same year.

2. Hillary Clinton tells Bill O'Reilly that she'd propose suspending the Federal tax on gasoline this summer, but then "pay for it" by charging the oil companies a Windfall profits tax of 20%. Oh, and of course, the oil companies would never pass this along to the consumer! What a novel concept: taxation to lower the price for the consumer. How inane! Sadly, half of the voters in the country fall for this foolishness. Can we survive a 4-year presidency with this woman? I don't want to find out!!!

3. Avery Johnson was fired as Mavericks coach. Too bad, I like Avery Johnson. He is a good man. He is a spiritual man. I'm not a Maverick fan, but I have been an Avery Johnson fan since his playing days in San Antonio. Here's hoping that he will land a spot on another team.

At Home In a Small Church

In my life, I have been apart of many different congregations ranging from the very large to the very small. If I have learned anything from this experience it is that I am most at home in a small church.

I have been apart of churches that had a membership of 50, and those that had a membership of over 1,000, and those with memberships somewhere in between these extremes. There are advantages and disadvantages to all sizes of churches. Here are some of my observations.

Larger churches . . .

1. . . . can usually afford to address every demographic in the congregation in effective and specialized ways.

2. . . . can usually have a significant profile in the community.

3. . . . are usually less hung up on traditions that stifle progress.

4. . . . are oftentimes a collection of cliques and several people who are overlooked.

5. . . . sometimes facilitate the performance of the few and the spectatorship of the many.

6. . . . sometimes become so consumed with meeting the needs of the congregation that they forget the wider mission field.

7. . . . sometimes reduces leaders to acting as mere managers and caretakers.

Smaller churches . . .

1. . . . often behave and function as an extended family.

2. . . . often require the service of the many and few are left inactive.

3. . . . often excel at ministering to those in crises and deep need.

4. . . . often are less consumed with finances than are larger churches.

5. . . . often are more ready to give an ear to missionaries and mission efforts (I'm learning this from personal experience as I travel the country on behalf of MNCH).

6. . . . sometimes are beset with the inter-familial conflict that roils in too many families.

7. . . . sometimes are beset with reactionary mindsets and are stifled by tradition.

8. . . . often lack a healthy balance of demographics.

What are some of your observations regarding small churches and large churches? Which do you prefer?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Half a Continent Away!

I am as far away from my children today as I have ever been. I speak of the great expanse of miles that separates us. As I write, I sit approximately 100 feet from the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean. I am in Malibu, California enjoying the Pepperdine University Bible Lectures. My three precious girls are in Levelland, Texas, where they now live. Today, half a continent separates us. For most the of the past year, I have lived a part from my children. We have shared several visits, visits that I look forward to more than anything else in my life right now, but visits that have been all-too-infrequent and all-too-short. This separation from my children was not my choice, nor theirs. It came from the sins of others that tore apart a family.
Please pray for my family. God can put broken pieces back together.
Today, as I sat looking out at the Pacific Ocean, my thoughts drifted back to a much happier time, this past June, and the day my girls saw the Ocean for the first time. The photo above is of Elizabeth and Hannah enjoying the surf.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Rude Welcome!

Does this sign say, "Welcome to California!"? I must say I was a bit taken back by having to shell out $72.37 to fill the tank of my Explorer today . . . and it wasn't even on empty!

However, that aside, I am excited to be in California and am looking forward to spending the next few days at Pepperdine University. Before I left Phoenix today, I drove around the new home of the Phoenix Cardinals. I am impressed, especially with the open-air mall that is adjacent to the stadium. Too bad the Cardinals will never be a winner. They've been in the NFL since the 1920's, and you can count their alltime playoff wins on one hand! But, they've got a great looking stadium! I guess they can hang their hat on that . . . and look forward to October 12 when fans of the visiting team will fill 3/4 of the stadium. That team? America's Team, of course . . . I want a ticket!
I drove by Joshua Tree National Park today. I di dnot have time to explore, but I did play some U-2 in homage! I also enjoyed some Johnny Cash, Ricky Sckaggs, and Rush "Operation Chaos" Limbaugh.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hello Walls (and I'm not talking Farron Young)

(I wrote these words on Friday.)

I am sitting in the historic Cascade Lodge. This old building sits on a flank of Engineer Mountain in the San Juan National Forest south of Silverton, Colorado. This cabin was built in 1928 as a summer camp facility for the Boy Scouts. For the past couple of decades it has been preserved by a group from Durango and used as a retreat facility. It is a beautiful old building with a lot of character.

As I sit here, my mind drifts back thought the years to envision all those who have come to this place for rest and relaxation, a respite from their busy lives. How many people have walked through these doors and enjoyed the rustic charm of this mountain lodge? I suppose there is no way of knowing for certain. If only these walls could talk and share the stories of times and experiences gone by.

This thought has expanded my thinking beyond these walls to the walls of my house and the thought, "If the walls of my house could talk, would I be comfortable and proud of what they would say?" And, how about the walls of your home? Would you be at ease with what they would communicate to the curious? The question is really focused on whether or not our inner lives (what we do in "secret" and out of view of most) agrees and is consistent with our public persona?

Who is that said, "Integrity is what you do in the dark"?


Another day (Sunday) spent in Phoenix. This is my fifth visit to this city in the past 2 years (and the fifth in my entire life!). I am more impressed with this place with each visit. I have found Phoenix and its metropolitan area to be the cleanest big city of any I have visited (and I've been to many in our country). The road system in Phoenix is second to none. Get past the heat (94 degrees today!), and this is a wonderful place. But, with very low humidity, the heat is bearable.

I had a very blessed day. I worshiped with two congregations today and had the blessing to speak to both. I was with the Northside church in Phoenix this morning and the Alma School Road congregation in Chandler this evening. Both congregations are so friendly and deeply spiritual. And both showed great interest in Manuelito Navajo Children' Home. God is good.

My day was made even more complete with visits to Cracker Barrel, Serrano's, and Fuddruckers . . . three of my all-time favorite restaurants. If only Phoenix had a Braum's (a double-decker waffle cone would have been the perfect nightcap!) . . . but, they do have Cold Stone Creamery . . . but, lo, I showed restraint and skipped desert!

The two photos below were taken yesterday on my trip from Colorado to Phoenix. I took a short detour through southeastern Utah and enjoyed the sights of Monument Valley . . . made famous by John Wayne and Wylie E. Coyote. The first picture is of the Mexican Hat . . . Michaelangelo has nothing on the greatest sculptor of all . . . our Awesome God! The second picture is of the northern gateway to Monument Valley.

I'm off to Malibu, California tomorrow and the beautiful campus of Pepperdine University. Expect some photos of the beach!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Arrival in Phoenix

My day. From 21 degrees to 97. From just under 10,000 foot elevation to a little above 1,000. From snow to sand. From Ponderosa pines to Sonoran saguaro cactus. From a rustic lodge in the forest to the 6th largest city in the United States.

I am now in Phoenix, Arizona, where I have the blessing of speaking to two congregations tomorrow, informing them about the good work of Manuelito Navajo Children's Home. I will be with the Northside congregation in Phoenix in the morning and the Alma School Road congregation in Chandler tomorrow night. I love opportunities to talk about Manuelito and our precious children. We rely on the partnership of churches and individuals throughout the country, and we are always looking for new people to join our work through their generosity and prayers. If I could come speak to your congregation, please let me know.

I have spent the past few days at the old Cascade Lodge south of Silverton, Colorado. I was attending Workshop In the Word, a preaching seminar hosted by Guy Orbison, Jr. and the Durango Church of Christ. The seminar is always challenging and a wonderful opportunity to renew friendships with preachers and other church leaders from throughout the West and other parts of the country.

The first photo below is of the Cascade Lodge. It is located on the slopes of Engineer Mountain in the San Juan National Forest. It was built in 1928 as a facility for the Boy Scouts to use for their summer camps. It has been wonderfully preserved by a non-profit group out of Durango and is available for groups to use for retreats and programs. I love coming here.

The next series of photos are from my trip over Red Mountain pass, into Silverton, and then over Molas and Coal Bank passes, down to the Cascade Lodge. The near record snowfalls are beautiful! These images are my idea of heaven.

This first photo is of Engineer Mountain, an Animas Valley landmark. The Cascade Lodge is below the lower right hand corner of the photo.

From near the summit of Red Mountain pass.

Below Molas pass. An old miner's house.

Can you tell why they call it Red Mountain?

Between Ouray and Red Mountain.

Headed out of Ridgway, south to Ouray and Red Mountain pass.

Looking north off the Million Dollar Highway, north of Red Mountain pass.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On the Road Again

My travels have brought me to the old, rustic Cascade Lodge in the San Juan National Forest south of Silverton, Colorado. The 14th annual Workshop in the Word is hosted here. The workshop is put on by Guy Orbison of the Durango Church of Christ each year and is a seminar for preachers. This is the third I have attended and look forward to it each year. Guy is a god friend and teacher. I will post pictures on Saturday (the next time I will have Internet access).
The photo above was taken two years ago from the porch of the old Cascade Lodge. The difference this year . . . imagine it all in white! I'll have updated photos posted on Saturday night . . . after I arrive in sunny Phoenix.

As I travel, I listen to lots of music (and to healthy does of Rush Limbaugh and sports talk radio!). I haven't caught up to the I-Pod era, so I still relay on my old CD's. I'm proud of the collection I have amassed over the years, and my music interests are quite broad. There was a time in my life that I listened only to Rock (and by the way anything released since 1985 is hardly Rock in my book . . . why 1985? Journey broke up that year :-). But, in my old age (of 37 years!), I have bcome a fan of country music, particularly country music that sounds country and doesn't try to imitate Pop. If I wanted to listed to Pop . . . well, I might just drive off a cliff instead :-). The pain would end a lot quicker!!!

Here is my playlist over the past few days:

Pink Floyd


Rhonda Vincent

Led Zeppelin


Willie Nelson

Michael W. Smith

Charlie Daniels

What music do you listen to when you drive?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spurs 2, Suns 0!

Go Spurs! All the way to a 5th title in the past decade!

Arches National Park - Utah

I visited a fascinating place today: Arches National Park, near Moab, Utah. Scroll through the photos to get a small representation of the great beauty of this place. I only had time to drive through the Park and was not able to get very far off the pavement. I would love to come back and spend several days hiking the trails that run all through the Park.

I discovered that many of the arches that are so familiar from photos and artwork (and Hollywood movies!) require some walking to see up close. I was able to see from a distance the Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade arch. Perhaps you remember it from early in the movie when young Indy recovers Coronado's cross from the bad guys. The arch is to the left (and of the frame) in the third photo below. The picture I took of the arch did not come out very well, so I did not post it.

If you have not visited Arches National Park, make plans to go. Utah is home to two of my favorite National Parks: Arches and Zion National Park (which I visited last summer and believe has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen). The town of Moab is a neat place, as well. I will be back. My drive today was rushed because I was making stops at congregations and trying to make it to Grand Junction for a couple of appointments.
The first photo in this posting (above) is not from Arches National Park, but it is a rock formation south of Moab, along the Highway 191 from Monticello, Utah. The photo does not do justice for the actual size of the thing.

The top and bottom pictures are of the formation called the "Three Gossips." I found it absolutely fascinating, especially looking at it from different angles (the photos posted here show two different angles).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Trip through Navajoland

Today was the start of a new development tour for Manuelito Navajo Children's Home. This tour will take me through four states and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Tonight, I am in Blanding, Utah, a beautiful little town on the edge of the Blue Mountains of southeastern Utah.

My drive today took me through the heart of the Navajo Nation, including the capitol, Window Rock, over the Defiance Plateau, and through Ganado, Chinle, and Round Rock. Coming into Utah, I came through Bluff and, making a detour, made a visit to Montezuma Creek. This small town sits at the confluence of Montezuma Creek and the San Juan River and on the border of the Navajo Reservation and Utah-proper.

Montezuma Creek is home to the Navajo Church of Christ. Some dear friends of mine, Ray an Oleta Whaley, work with this congregation and have been missionaries there for the past 15 years. They are wonderful servants of Christ and his church. The Navajo Reservation can be a very difficult place in which to preach the Gospel, and "results" are often slow to develop and pale in comparison to the "big numbers" of the Indian and African mission fields. It takes dedication, an unwavering commitment, to grow a church in this area, and the Whaley's have shown a great heart for this work. They love the Navajo, and in many ways, are one of them.

Please pray for the Whaleys and the other missionary families in Navajoland. And, consider becoming a partner in their work. Financial assistance is always needed and welcome. If you are interested, I can help you get into contact with the Whaleys (and other missionaries on the Reservation).

I have attached a few photos taken on my drive today. The lands of the Navajo Nation are beautiful. The first photo illustrates a very common "hazard" when driving the roads on the Rez . . . animals! . . . in the road . . . on the shoulder . . . often without a moment's notice! This flock of sheep was crossing the road just as I was coming out of a sharp curve (driving 50 mph!). The second photo is of Montezuma Creek. The third photo is of a rock formation north of Many Farms, Arizona. And, the fourth photo is of the mesas west of he Defiance Plateau.

If you've never visited the Navajo Reservation, makes plans to come.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our Most Valuable Resource

In Ephesians 5.15-16, Paul writes, "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil" (NRSV). Let me paraphrase, "Live wisely, and use your time productively, because the length of your life is uncertain."

Isn't time the most precious commodity of all? What other resource is as fleeting. Material possessions come and go? Money can be earned, and spent, and earned again. Time, however, is here and then it is not. That minute that just ticked by is gone forever. Another minute may come, but it is not the minute we just experienced. And who's to say how many minutes remain.

Are you disciplined with your use of time? I often am not. Not to my satisfaction, at least. I allow to much of my day to waste away in my idleness or lack of application. You know, watching two hours of Home Improvement yesterday was entertaining, but was it productive? No. Did the experience improve my well-being or prove a blessing a to someone else. No, beyond the few laughs, it was wasted time.

Now, we need moments of levity and relaxation. God made with an innate need for rest. He himself rested at the end of his labors in Creation. But, let us not lose sight of the formal of work and rest employed by our Creator: six days of work, one day of rest. I, to often, flip the formula.

God made us to work. Our oldest ancestor worked, and in the Garden, no less. Despite our often conception of Eden as a vacation paradise, God placed the man in the Garden to "to till it an to keep it" (Gen. 2.15). God put Adam to work! The very design of our bodies is work-oriented. Just consider the amazing design of the human hand and all that our hands are able to accomplish. We were made to be productive. Our Creator is a God of action, not passivity, and we were made "in his image."

Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 5.15-16 concerns our use of time. His is an appeal that we use our time wisely. We should be live our lives fully aware that time is precious, that God has placed us here to be productive, and that God will hold us accountable for our use of the time that he has given to us. Consider Jesus' parable of the talents. Now, the resource in the story is not time, but rather money, but the principle of productivity can certainly apply to our estimation of time. Let us not forget, the servant that buried his talent was condemned.

How we can use our time more wisely? It begins with an understanding that our time is a gift from God and an awareness that time is fleeting and never guaranteed. We must think in terms of productivity: is my use of time accomplishing something that is worthwhile and beneficial. We should see our time as a resource to use in blessing others. We should see our time as a conduit through which God can work.

Some practical considerations include the use of scheduling. I have discovered, in the past few months, the values of keeping a daily calendar. For so many years, I would (try to ) remember dates, appointments and assignments in my head. I would begin each day as a clean slate and whatever came up, came up. How much time did I waste doing this? A lot, I'm afraid. These days, I keep my DayRunner close at hand!

Another valuable tool in organizing one's life is a daily inventory of how one's time will be used that day. I have not arrived at the point of discipline to do this enough personally, but I see the value in it. At the beginning of one's day or the close of one's day, the upcoming day is analyzed and a schedule is written, and a list of goals are composed. Then a follow-up inventory is taken at night, with the question in mind: "Did I make my day successful? Did I accomplish what I set out to do?" I need to get in the habit of doing this. This type of inventory works great with an accountability buddy (a spouse or close friend) who can help keep us on our toes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

So, What's with the Rib?

Let me state the obvious: men and women are different creatures altogether. For instance, a man asks, "Will it work?" While a woman wonders, "Is it pretty?"

There are distinct differences between men and women: our bodies are different; our thought processes and emotions are usually different; our abilities, aspirations, and interests are usually different; and our roles in life, both in the family and church are different.

But, before I develop this thought, let me affirm: BOTH men and women are created in the image of God. In Genesis 1.26, God says: "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" (NRSV). Then, what God contemplates doing, he does. Verse 27: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them."

Do you notice the repetitive pattern of verse 27? There are three parallel clauses: "created in his image . . . in his image he created . . . male and female he created." Male and female is significant in the understanding of what "in the image of God" means. Both males and females, men and women have been created in the image of God. Thus, there is a certain equality (or, sameness) between male and female: we are the same in the respect that we are both created in the image of God (I will expand on this thought in a future posting). But, there is also the implication of a distinction (or, difference). God created two distinct beings, both of whom are made in the image of God, and that distinction goes beyond the physical and emotional differences between us.

In Genesis 2, the order of creation is significant. It seems that what we are given in Genesis 2 is a reordering of what we are told in Genesis 1. In ch. 2, man (the male) is created first. According to v. 7, God made man, fashioning him from the "dust of the ground" and breathing "into his nostrils the breath of life." And, "the man became a living being." God then plants a garden, and "there he put the man whom he had formed" (v. 8). God speaks to the man, commanding him, "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (v. 16). Notice, God pronounces his law to the man, before the woman is created.

Then, God determines that it is not good for man to be "alone" (v. 18). So, he "formed every animal" (v. 19) in an attempt to "find" a suitable companion for him. In this effort, God parades the animals before the man, so that he could name each of them and so that he might find a "helper." So, "the man gave names to all [the creatures] but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner" (v. 20). Thus, "God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (vv. 21-22). Upon waking, the man recognizes that this woman is his suitable companion. He declares, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken" (v. 23).

Then, just as he had named the animals, man names the woman. (He will do so again in 3.20, naming her "Eve.")

With the events of Genesis 2, there seems to be a certain priority placed on the man. This priority is not in the sense of superiority--remember, male and female were created in the image of God . . . they are partners . . . they are compliments to one another. This priority is in accordance with the divine order (or plan) of the male-female relationship.

In Genesis 2, man is seen as the receiver of God's law. God entrusts his law into the care of the man. Remember, the woman was not present, she had not yet been created. Thus, in a way, however subtle, God is declaring man to be the spiritual leader of the marriage and family. The implication, it seems, is that the man was obligated to share God's Law with his family, to teach it to them. This leadership is reinforced when the man is given the responsibility (or authority) to name the animals and also the woman. A parent names a child, and according to Genesis 5.2, God named male and female "man" (or, "humankind" . . . literally, "Adam"). The responsibility or authority of naming had significance in ancient times; it was a privilege given to one in authority. (Note: It is interesting, however, that Eve gives names to her sons and not Adam; this may serve to underscore the failure of leadership witnessed in Genesis 3.)

The events of Genesis 3 are important to this discussion on male leadership. You know the details of the story: the serpent comes to the woman and quizzes her on the law God had given concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The man had obviously informed the woman of God's statement about the tree, but the woman, despite her knowledge of God's Word, is misled by the serpent, and she sins by partaking of the forbidden fruit.

Where was the man when the serpent spoke to his wife? Verse 6 places him at the scene of the crime: "She took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate." This proximity should prompt a serious question: Why didn't the man speak up when the serpent spoke? After all, God had given the command to him, and so, shouldn't he be the expert on what God had said. As far as we know, the man was the only one to hear God's Word directly, and not the woman or the serpent.

It seems to me that that man had a responsibility to speak in defense of God's Word. Thus, his great sin in the affair may have not been the bite he took but the forfeiture of his divinely-appointed leadership role. To be direct: he remained silent, and damned his family in the process.

Consider: to whom does God speak when he comes into the garden following the eating of the forbidden fruit? He address the man, and not the woman or the serpent. Verse 9: "But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" God certainly knew the circumstances that had unfolded, knowing that the serpent was the instigator and that the woman was the first to take a bite, but he speaks to the man as he comes to address the situation.

Numbers 30 offers some enlightening commentary. In this passage, Moses instructs the Israelites about vows made to the Lord. In v. 2, he teaches, "When a man makes the vow to the Lord . . . he shall not break his word." In vv. 3ff., Moses teaches that a woman is treated differently. If a woman takes a vow, it is her father or husband who is accountable for the vow she utters. If a husband hears his wife utter a foolish vow and does not speak out, he is responsible for it! (Men, aren't you glad times have changed :-))

Is this not what we are witnessing in the Garden? The man was obligated to correct the serpent and faithfully uphold the word of God. And, he failed.

As God pronounces his judgment he reaffirms the divine order of things. As he came in to the Garden, he addressed the man first, then the woman (in response to the man's protest), and then the serpent. Then, God speaks again to the woman, and finally the man. The man is addressed first . . . and last!

What does God say to the woman? There are two aspects to her judgment: (1) she will experience pain in childbirth--something that should have been totally blessed would now be complicated and painful; and (2) she would experience tension in the very relationship that was to be the hallmark of creation--her marriage.

To the woman, God says, "Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you" (v. 16b). At first glance this statement does not seem to be pejorative (or, judgmental); indeed it seems to be a positive affirmation of marriage. But, this statement is given in the context of judgment and is parallel to Gen. 4.7, where God tells Cain, "Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master (or, rule) it." God is warning Cain to not allow sin (his anger toward Abel) to dominate him--this is the concept behind the word translated "desire." Cain must master (some word order as in 3.16) the sin; in other words, not to do something irrational and sin.

The woman desires to dominate her husband (as sin did Cain), but it is the husband's moral responsibility to maintain leadership. This involves no new arrangement, but rather a difficulty brought on by the Fall. What was originally a highly compatible relationship (partners) will become beset by the difficulties of fallenness on both sides--with the woman seeking to usurp authority and the man abdicating his, either by negligence or moral failure. However, v. 16 is not saying that every wife is bent on undermining her husband any more than it indicates that all husbands are unthoughtful and abusive. Simply put, sin has stood in the way of the marital relationship being all that God had envisioned and ordained.

God envisioned that the man and woman would be compliments to each other. Creations is "surpassingly good" (1.31) only after the creation of both male and female. Man without his female counterpart forms an incomplete humanity, one lacking true companionship. By using a rib from man to create woman, there can be no doubt that the woman is on the same level as man. To deny her is to deny himself.

The man does not lead spiritually because he is superior to the woman, for they have both been created in the image of God. The man does not lead because he is more like God, for they have both been created in the image of God. The man leads spiritually because this is the arrangement determined by God . . . it is this simple.

In 1 Timothy 2.11-15, Paul affirms this arrangement of leadership for the church as well as the family. He appeals to the creative order to make his point. Both the man and woman have been given distinct, important roles. The woman has a unique role, that of mother--she bears children and is charged with their nurturing in ways that man cannot. The man has a unique role, that of leading the church in worship and nurturing the church and household spiritually.

Let us never forget: man's failure to lead his family resulted in the Fall!!!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Camp Is Around the Corner

Just another reminder: the summer camp season is just around the corner. If you do not have a camp home, consider attending Four Corners Encampment as a camper of staff person.

On the Gallup Church and Diversity

I wrote yesterday about the need for Christians to be colorblind when it comes to accepting and embracing people of different cultures, ethnicities, and races. This is especially true as our society becomes less and less monochrome. America is a melting pot and becoming more diverse as each day passes.

I have found the Gallup Church of Christ to be a special fellowship of God's people. We are certainly a diverse group. About half of us are Anglo, and about half of us are Navajo. It is a wonderful blending of races and cultures. The color of our skin may be of different shades. Certain aspects of our upbringing and experiences are different. Our heritages and the histories of our ancestors are often divergent. But, we are all New Mexicans. We are all Americans. And, most importantly, we are all Christians, children of the same Father.

I believe that one of the sad aspects of the history of Churches of Christ (and also of other divisions of Christianity) is the segregation that persisted, and in some places still persists in our congregations. Sadly, when I was growing up in Lubbock, Texas, there was the tacit understanding that there were certain congregations known as "Black churches," and there were "Hispanic churches," and although the moniker was never directly used, there was the implication of "white churches." I always thought that such thinking was sad if not completely out of Christian character.

Diversity doesn't just happen, it is the end result of purposeful intent and action. It is the result of our placing ourselves in the midst of settings and among people that are different than ourselves. It involves presenting ourselves in ways that are not offensive and off-putting to those we strive to meet and grow to know. It means going to great lengths to know those who are different from ourselves, to know their standards and sensibilities, to strive to relate to them in ways that are inviting. It means seeing another as an equal (we are all made in the image of God) and as one with whom we can share the bond of brotherhood or sisterhood.

Let me illustrate the point by relating a story from early in my preaching career. I had moved to Childress, Texas to preach for the Fairview congregation. It was a small church made up of rural folk (some of the best people I have ever known!). I had been taught that preachers dressed the part . . . coat and tie, everyday! It wasn't long before a wise old man took me aside and gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. He said, "Son, you can't pick cotton in a three-piece suit." It took a moment for those words to sink in, but basically he was telling me that I was out of place; if I was going to be comfortable around these people, and have them be comfortable around me, I would need to dress the part . . . in other words, be casual.

I am mindful of a large church whose building is now in the heart of the inner-city (the location was once at the heart of the city's business district), but whose membership is almost entirely white, upper-middle class. Most of the members live in the outlying areas of the city, in the affluent neighborhoods, while those in the immediate surroundings of the church building do not attend. A walk into the building may indicate why that is: the building is ornate, part cathedral, part high-class conference center. The members are all immaculately dressed. The cars in the parking lot are a mixture of SUV's and luxury brands. Now, perhaps I'm over analyzing, but think about the dichotomy for a minute: a church in the inner-city looking like it belongs in the suburbs.

I'm not suggesting that we tear down our ornate buildings and all grunge-out for our assemblies, but I am suggesting that we need some balance. We need to make an effort to be welcoming and inviting to peoples from all backgrounds. I do not know all of the particulars of how this is done, but I know that it begins with the heart . . . a heart that is open . . . an eagerness to see all men come to know the great love we enjoy in Christ.

The photo was taken at the Hogback Church of Christ on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico (April 2006).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Love of God . . . Colorblind!

Yesterday was the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in the major leagues. On the 50th anniversary of that great moment, I wrote the following article for publication in the Fairview Church of Christ (Childress, Texas) bulletin.

Just Thinking (04-15-1997)

April 15, 1947 was an important day in American history. Jackie Robinson played his first regular season games as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was, as you know, the first black man to be allowed to play in the major leagues. His entry into the sport played a major role in the eventual effort to desegregate American society.

Sadly, our nation was divided from the time of its inception until late this century. In some ways, it is still divided--a division determined by the color of one's skin. For many decades this division was so blatant in the institution of slavery. And for over a hundred years after the Civil Way this division was seen in the denial of rights to people of color. There was a time, not so long ago, that blacks were denied the right to vote, were not allowed to eat in restaurants, were forced to sit at the back of buses, were openly ridiculed as being "sub-human," and forced to endure many other forms of racial persecution.

During the time of slavery, and even in the century that followed, churches ignored the racial turmoil that tore at the country. Churches even became accomplices in this racial struggle. Some congregations refused to allow blacks to enter their buildings, or forced them to sit in a segregated balcony. Most churches refused to defend the plight of blacks by remaining silent to the sins of racial prejudice.

Unconscionably many Christians had ignored, and in some ways still ignore, Paul's words to the Galatians: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3.28 NRSV). this exhortation is echoed in Paul's correspondence to the Corinthian church: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12.12-13).

Christianity is to be an inclusive enterprise. Christ died for all men and women, not just for those of a certain color or ethnicity. The love of God is colorblind. It is sin to regard another man as "sub-human" and to treat him as such. It is sin to hate another because of color and to relate to him with prejudice.

As God's children, we are called to reach out to everyone. We are to love without prejudice. The promise God made to Abraham declares this inclusiveness: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing . . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12.2-3).

May we be, as is the love of God--COLORBLIND!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A 61st Anniversary!

Today is the 61st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. April 15, 1947 is certainly one of the greatest days in the history of our country. Breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball was a major advancement in the struggle for civil rights. If only MLB had done the right thing decades earlier. Imagne Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in their prime playing alongside the likes of Gehrig, Dimaggio, Geringer, Foxx, Dean, Medwick, and the others from the 30s and 40s.

In the Place of Abel

Genesis 4 begins and ends with a birth announcement, the news that a son had been born to Adam and Eve. In v. 1, the son is Cain, at whose birth Eve declares, "I have made a man equal with the Lord." In v. 25, the son is Seth, at whose birth Eve declares, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him."

The significance of these birth announcements is found in the two responses of Eve. Do you notice a change in attitude as Eve names Seth? Doesn't Eve seem a bit prideful as she names her firstborn son, Cain? "I have made a man equal with the Lord," she declares. This, contrasted with the naming of Seth: "God has appointed for me another child." As she welcomed her first child, she shouted, "I did this!" As she welcomed her third son, she was humble: "God did this."

To understand the birth announcements and the reason for Eve's change in attitude, we must look back to Genesis 3. You remember the story. The serpent tempts the woman, the woman eats the forbidden fruit and gives to her husband to eat, and he eats. God comes in judgment. His words to the serpent are striking: ". . . he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (vv. 14-15). What do these words anticipate? They prophesy that the serpent will eventually be destroyed by the seed of the woman.

Might the woman have thought that she could get even with the serpent who had deceived her and cost her so much? Might the woman have thought that her own seed (her son) would be the source of her redemption? Eve's arrogance at the birth of Cain seems to suggest this. She had the view that she had produced the child . . . the seed that would get vengeance. But, then tragedy unfolds as Eve's son of promise kills his brother, Abel, and is driven away to a foreign land. Eve, in essence, is left without a son and the hope of her redemption seems to be shattered.

Then, in the depth of this despair, God blesses Eve with another son, whom she names Seth, declaring him to be "in the place of Abel."

At the birth of Seth, Eve is humble. She says, "This is God's doing." This is interesting. At Cain's birth, she claimed credit. At Abel's birth she had said nothing (indeed there is no reference to Abel being named; see Gen. 4.2). But now Eve credits God withe the birth of her son, one to replace Abel.

Remember, God had favored Abel and his offering, but not Cain and his offering. Is there a connection between this and Eve's hope that Cain would be her redeemer? Consider: the one whom Eve thought was the source of her salvation, her son Cain, was not the one God had appointed; he favored Abel. And, it is ultimately through the lineage of Seth that the redeemer will actually come. Jesus is the promised seed spoken of by God in his judgment of the serpent, the one through whom Eve's (actually, mankind's) redemption will be realized.

With this account of Eve and her sons a theme begins to develop that will continue to be woven throughout the Biblical story. Abel was favored by God, not Cain; Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael; Jacob was blessed, not Esau; Rachel was loved by Jacob, not Leah, but it is through Leah that God's blessing is passed; Judah was blessed, not Reuben; the youngest son of Jesse was chosen, not the eldest; and, so forth.

The significance of this trend: God brings his favor, salvation, redemption by his initiative and doing. Man has no room to boast.

Do we place ourselves in Eve's sandals (or, did she go barefoot?)? She put her reliance in Cain, only to see her hopes shattered when Cain murdered his brother. Can we relate to Eve's folly? To her lost hope? To the despair she must have felt? When we rely on ourselves and the things and power and status we accumulate, we will in time, be disappointed.

Let us have Eve's attitude as she welcomed her youngest son: "God has appointed for me another child in place of Abel."

Surprise Visit

I received this funny little story via e-mail today. You've probably heard it before, but in case you havent't, enjoy.

A new pastor was visiting in the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to hisrepeated knocks at the door. So, he took out a business card and wrote "Revelation 3:20" on the back of it and stuck it in the door.

When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, "Genesis 3:10." Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 begins, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Genesis 3:10 reads, "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Camp, Anyone?

My favorite week of the year is just 3 months away. The session I direct at Four Corners Encampment in Dolores, Colorado will be held July 13-18. Would you like to help. I need cabin leaders (counselors) and other workers. If you are interested, drop me an e-mail.

One of the Best!

Greg Maddux. I have not always been a fan. After all, he spent most of his career pitching for the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves, two franchises at the absolute bottom of my list (I'm loyal to my Cardinals!).

In the past few seasons, however, I've come to have great respect for Greg Maddux, and I now see him as the incredible pitcher he has always been. He is certainly bound for the Hall of Fame. He may very well be the best pitcher the Major Leagues have seen since Walter Johnson, even though sentimentality still puts Nolan Ryan at the top of that list. Roger Clemens has been knocked down a few rungs. And, Satchel Paige was not allowed to shine in his prime, or he would have owned the list!

Greg Maddux won his 349th game lst night. He needs 6 more wins to eclipse Clemens, and he will do that by mid-season. He defeated the Dodgers, and afterward Dodger manager Joe Torre said this: "I've always had a lot of respect for guys who just say, 'Here it is, and if you beat me, you beat me.' That's the way he's always gone about his business," Torre said. "You don't have to throw the ball 95 miles an hour to be a successful pitcher. I mean, I grew up in the big leagues with Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, and those guys who relied more on command than on blowing people away."

"A lot of times Maddux will beat you with his reputation," Torre added. "Sometimes, hitters go up there trying to look for too many things. But he's always going to give you a pitch to hit. The thing is, he has the knack of reading hitters' body language. It seems every time you take a pitch it's a strike, and every time you swing, it's not. He just doesn't throw the ball straight -- and he's got the guts of a burglar."

Here is my list of the best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball since Walter Johnson.

1. Walter Johnson (the next pticher who amasses 400 wins can challenge him)

2. Satchel Paige (if only he had been allowed to play in the ML's in his prime!)

3. Greg Maddux (the stats do not lie, even if most come in a Cubs or Braves uniform)

4. Nolan Ryan (if he'd only had some run support)

5. Sandy Koufax (the best run of 5 seasons of any pitcher, ever)

6. Warren Spahn (too often, the forgotten man)

7. Bob Feller (perhaps the first big-time fastball pitcher)

8. Bob Gibson (his 1968 season may be the best ever)

9. Steve Carlton / Tom Seaver (great pitchers from the same era)

11. Rogers Clemens (he hasn't fallen off the list . . . yet! His pre-1998-steroids stats alone dwarf that of many pitchers)

What pitchers are on your list?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

God's Answer to Prayer . . . May Be Me!

Are you familiar with Rob Bell? He is a fantastic preacher. He has put together a series of videos where he is shown presenting a Biblical message in rather unconventional settings and ways. The NOOMA series is powerful. I look forward to each new video (I have all 19 on DVD).

In the latest NOOMA video, entitled "Open," Rob Bell speaks about prayer, specifically the subject of "unanswered prayer." He offers one line that struck me as particularly powerful. He said, "Don't pray for God to feed the hungry if you have plenty to eat." His point was that in many cases you and I might very well be the answer to the prayers we offer to God.

Don't pray for God to feed the hungry if you have plenty to eat. I'll be thinking a lot about these words and the message behind them during this upcoming week. I am often quick to overlook the ways in which I can be a blessing to the lives of others. I, like many, get too caught up in my own life to see the needs of others. My life is not to be lived to self, it is to be given as an offering to God and used in service to others. That is why I am here. That is why you are here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Advancement of Technology

There are constant advancements in technology that just baffle the mind, or my rather limited mental capacities, at least. I heard some statistics the other day that underscore this. The statistics concerned communication technologies and the time that lapsed between their invention and the point at which half of the households in America had possession of said technology.
  • It took 71 years after the invention of the telephone before half of American households had a phone.
  • It took 52 years after the harnassing of electricity before half of American households had electrical service.
  • It took 38 years before radios were in half of American households.
  • It took 18 years before color televisions were in half of American households.
  • It took 18 years before personal computers were in half of American households.
  • It took 15 years before cellphones were in half of American homes.
  • It took 14 years before VCR's were in half of American homes.
  • It took 10 1/2 years before CD players were in half of American homes.
  • It took 10 years before broadband Internet was in half of American households.
  • It took 4 years before I-Pod's were in half of American households (and this stat may include all MP3 and similar devices).

Just analyze those statistics for a moment. My mind is trying to grasp what the next big communication technology will be and how rapidly it is likely to affect our lives. What do you think it will be?

(Note: If you listened to Rush on Monday you've already heard these statistics.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Forgotten 4,000

Much has been made during the past couple of weeks of the 4,000th death among U.S. Servicemen and women serving in Iraq. That's 4,000 deaths in 5 years of war. BUT, did you realize that there are approximately 4,000 abortions performed in this country every day!

The media is quick to point out the losses from the Iraq War, but are often silent when it comes to great violence that takes place in our own country every day.

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


It is good to be home!

I have returned to Gallup after spending the past 20 days on the road, traveling from place to place sharing the news about Manuelito Navajo Children's Home . . . and squeezing some good time in with family and friends along the way.

Let me recap. In the past 20 days, I have:
  • Visited 6 states (New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado)
  • "Lived" in 3 time zones (MST, CST & Arizona, which does not recognize DST)
  • Driven 4,744 miles
  • Spent $937.69 on fuel and service
  • Experienced the ecstasy of 20.56 mpg on March 25 (and when you're driving a V8 Ford Explorer . . . that's fantastic!). Of course, I also endured 14.66 mpg on April 4-5 . . . ugh!
  • Found that the cheapest gasoline from Phoenix to Tulsa was actually in Phoenix and Tulsa; the most expensive was in Red Mesa, Colorado ($3.57 for 85 octane unleaded).
  • Dined at Braum's 9 times, at Cracker Barrel 8 times, and Rosa's 5 times. I also visited dozens of other eating establishments.
  • Climbed to 8,900 feet elevation (at Cloudcroft, N. Mex.) and descended to 744 feet above sea level (at Tulsa).
  • Spoke to 4 congregations and worshiped with a few more.
  • Saw many good friends I had not seen in a long time.

Did I tell you it was snowing in Gallup, at the moment? April 8 and snow . . . thunder snow! You gotta love western New Mexico!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lubbock Landmark

Okay, so there's not much excitement. But, now my girls can say they've been to Prairie Dog Town. Who wouldn't want that on their list of life's accomplishments?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Iced Tea

On Monday, it was Braum's. Today, it is Rosa's. My road trip has taken me away from the land of Braum's (Oklahoma and Kansas) to Lubbock and the home of Rosa's. (Of course, Rosa's originated in Odessa, Tex., and you can now find them throughout Texas, but I will always think of Rosa's and Lubbock in the same context!).

I love Rosa's. Any trip to Lubbock is incomplete without a stop at Rosa's Cafe & Tortilla factory. Why do I love Rosa's so much? Iced Tea. Salsa. Fajitas. And, bean burritos. In that order.

I don't know what it is about Rosa's iced tea, but it is simply the best. I'm an iced connoisseur (if there's such a thing!) . . . I drink 3-4 gallons of the stuff . . . every day! And, Rosa's iced tea is second to none.

The medio caliente salsa at Rosa's is terrific. A large chips and salsa is a meal to itself, especially if you add a side of guacamole.

Fajitas! Beef fajitas! Not as good as On the Border or Abuelos, but for the price, they can't be beat at Rosa's. If only, Rosa's would have a Fajita night to pair with Taco Tuesdays!

And, lest I forget the bean burritos. They're not my personal favorite, but my three daughters love them. There are very few places where all of my girls love to eat without question. The bean burritos at Rosa's get three cheers every time.

Okay, enough of the Rosa's commercial. Perhaps the management will stumble across my blog and offer me free fajitas as compensation for the plug!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Blessing of Reunions

I was blessed today with two reunions.

Earlier today, I had lunch with some special friends, Khris and Lara Rogers. I had not seen them in many, many years. Khris and I were in Kindergarten together . . . 33 years ago! and spent most of our schooling together, all the way through college. We're among the select few that can say we started Kindergarten at the same school from which we graduated college! We're alumni of Lubbock Christian Schools and Lubbock Christian University.

Tonight, I received an e-mail from a dear friend, Eddie Stegall. We had not communicated in several years. Eddie and his family are some of my favorite people that I have been blessed to meet along my life's journey. They have a spirit that thirsts for God that I have found so encouraging over the years. Eddie's parents are two of the most Godly, and fun-loving people you could ever know. When I think of what an elder of the church is to be, my mind immediately goes to Ed Stegall, a true shepherd, even though he's been "retired" from the position for many years :-).

These two reunions have brought a lot of encouragement to me today and reminded me how blessed I have been in life. I am a wealthy man; not materially, but in terms of all the wonderful relationships God has brought my way. People are the true riches in this life.

I have not always been the best at relationships. I too often get caught up in my own little world, my concerns, my work, my interests, and I don't invest the time and attention in other people as I should. I'll be quite candid, though, having lost the most special of relationships, as I have in this past year, has reemphasized to me the great value of those people that God has brought into my life and has made me want to do all I can to strengthen and nurture and treasure those friendships I have.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Gift of Grace

I'm so glad that eternity doesn't depend upon my ability to pass a test! By the grace of God in Christ I am saved, and by his mercy eternal life is a reality. So, why is it that we get so caught up in crossing all the "t's" and dotting all the "i's"?

I come from a religious tradition that emphasizes exactness in an approach to the interpretation of Scripture and religious practice. It is admirable to want to understand God's Word as fully and completely as possible. After all, Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5.6). BUT, my mental capabilities are imperfect; all men (and women!) have some deficiency in mental acumen. There will always be some shortcoming (and probably many) when it comes to my comprehension of the Bible. I will never score a 100 on a comprehensive exam of Scripture. And, so there will always be some shortcoming in my practice of God's will. But, isn't that the whole reason for the cross?

My point? There was a wonderful Christian man in Childress that used to ask me these questions, "Does God accept a 95? How about an 85? What does he do with a 70? Does he grade on a curve? Do only the students at the top of the class pass?" His questions were rhetorical, he had his answer in mind, but he was simply asking me these questions to challenge my thinking and to make the point that the arrogance that so many have regarding their understanding of Scripture and their perception that the knowledge and understanding of others doesn't measure up is foolish . . . if not sinful.

Let me state the point this way: Did Jesus hang on the cross only to have us be required to pass a Bible-competency exam before salvation could be secured? NO, Jesus died on the cross because of the weaknesses of man . . . weaknesses that very well might (and likely do) include shortcomings when it comes to understanding Scripture.

I don't know of a perfect church (and I use the term broadly). Every church has its shortcomings . . . we are all humans in need of God's grace, after all. So, how audacious it is of me to point my finger at a church (or indicvidual) that does some things different from my understanding of Scripture, and condemn them. Am I the judge? Am I God? Do I have the power to dispense God's grace or to withhold it? Do I know the sincerity of the heart of the one(s) whom I presume to judge? How dare I try to stand where God alone can stand.

I am deeply troubled by attitudes within my faith tradition, the Churches of Christ. There are many presuming to stand where God alone can stand. Too many who are looking at the behaviors of others and arrogantly declaring, "Your understanding of Scripture is wrong! Your actions are displeasing to God!" We even have certain individuals and congregations publishing full-page ads in major newspapers to publicly condemn other churches. It's very much like a student pridefully shouting, "My 95 beats your 85! I'm so much smarter than you!"

Praise be to God that he, and he alone, makes me worthy of his love. I can't earn it. I can't purchase it. I can't smart my way into achieving it. I certainly can respond to his great gift with a deep, un-trumped love for him. I can respond with my obedience. I can offer my worship and my service as best as I know how. BUT, I can also honor him by showing deference to others, by being humble, by giving fellow believers (and I use that term broadly) a benefit of the doubt, acknowledging that all of us are imperfect and in need of God's grace.

I've come to believe that heaven will be much more crowded that I once believed. And I praise God for that!!!