Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baton Rouge

I visited another state capitol building this morning, the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. It is the tallest capitol building in America. As I visited, I wondered, does America's next President currently work in this building? He would get my vote, but his speech the other night probably didn't help his chances.

The second picture is of the old Louisiana capitol.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ten Good Days

Earlier this week I wrote about some bad days in my life. My life, though, has been filled with many more good days than bad. Here, in this article, I offer an accounting of Ten Good Days. I would enjoy reading about your good days, as well.

Without a doubt, and without a close second, the single best day of my life was that early February morning in 1999 when I witnessed the birth of my first daughter, Elizabeth. Of course, the same feelings of amazement and great love were felt as I witnessed the arrivals of my Hannah and Autumn Grace, but there will always be one first.

Another good day was that morning in February 1983 when I was baptized. My good friend, Tim Byars, and I were both baptized by our fathers on that day. It doesn't seem possible that 26 years have passed.

I still remember my first day of Kindergarten. The room was located on the second floor of the Lubbock Christian College administration building. Mrs. Bowe was my teacher. I was the first student to show up. It was raining. And, on that day, I met some of the best friends I have had in life: Chetlen Crossnoe, Jeff Phillips, Paul Smith, and Khris Rogers were in Mrs. Bowe's class; Vernon Barnett and Tim Byars were in Mrs. Farley's class. And, I could use of several more lines listing many others I still know and remember.

I can remember clearly Todd Jordan catching the touchdown pass and scoring the first and only touchdown my 7th grade football team scored. Against Anton. In the north end zone of Lena Stephens' field. We won that game 6-0; our only win that season.

I remember clearly and fondly the first trip I took as a member of the Green Lawn Church of Christ youth group. Paul Smith and I were 6th graders and went with the older teens to Six Flags. That trip on the bus (the old Green Lawn JOY bus that sits rusting in a field between Reese and Smyer) was a blast. Both Paul and myself spent all of our money half way through our stay at Six Flags, and we had to beg money the rest of the trip. The trip was made longer when the bus broke down on the morning we were to leave Arlington. I still remember Paul and myself sitting in Carla Hukle's hotel room (Dale was off getting parts for the bus), and the two of us were flipping through the yellow pages commenting on all the yummy restaurant listings. Carla quickly grew tired of our sad show and gave us $2 to get some snacks out of the vending machine.

I remember preaching my first sermon in Forgan, Oklahoma, the church where my grandfather preached. I was 14 years old. Papa lead the singing.

I remember Christmas morning 1975. We lived in a 2-story townhouse in Lubbock (the building still stands on the NW corner of Quaker & Marsha Sharp). I remember staying up late the night before; my sister and I staring out the window looking for Santa Clause. i woke up the next morning and bounded down the stairs to open presents. We opened all the presents, when my dad said to me, "There's another present for you. It's upstairs." I bounded up the stairs, and to my amazement, there, on my bedroom floor, was an electric train set all set out on a large board . . . the train ready to go! Somehow, I had walked right past it in my haste to get from my bed to the Christmas tree.

I remember the night I first saw Star Wars. I was seven years old and had begged my parents to take me. We saw it in a theater that has long since been gone. (It stood across the street from Jones Stadium in Lubbock, in the building that housed the Caboose).

I remember the night in May 1990 that I showed up in Aurora, Colorado, at the house of Dale & Carla Hukle. I was there to serve as Dale's summer intern for the University Church of Christ. It was a few days shy of my 20th birthday, and my first day in ministry. That was half a lifetime ago!

I remember the day in July 1990 when I first scaled the summit of Pikes Peak (it was via automobile, but a feat nonetheless) . . . and then driving off that mountain in a blizzard.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seeking Understanding Instead of Condemning

I spent some time at the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library today on the University of Texas campus in Austin. It was my third visit to this facility. I have enjoyed each one.

LBJ does not make my list of favorite presidents, and I believe many of his policies did not accomplish what he set out to do and even had adverse affects (namely, his "war on poverty"). But, as I consider more about him as a person and politician I realize that while his initiatives were not perfect, they were, for the most part, grounded in genuine concern.

As I walked through the LBJ library today, I was struck by the words of the former president preserved in writings and audio recordings. I especially was moved by the concern he often voiced for the poor and disenfranchised in society, especially those who were victims of racial prejudice. The cynic would dismiss LBJ's speeches on these subjects as political expediency and pandering, but the sentiment that comes across in his words is anything but insincere and selfishly motivated. LBJ, I believe, was speaking from the heart when he expressed his desire to confront poverty and prejudice and make the American dream accessible to the disenfranchised.

One segment of the museum's display on LBJ's life deals with his time as a teacher in Mexico. This segment of LBJ's life was news to me, but it apparently had a lasting impact on the former president's life. In those months, he worked with kids from communities steeped in third world poverty, and he witnessed how those in power took advantage of them. Later, in his service in Congress and the Senate (and especially as President), he pledged himself to doing what he could to address this misery. Another segment of the display explained LBJ's feelings on race, discussing how a U.S. serviceman (an army corporal who was killed in action in Korea) was refused burial in his Texas hometown cemetery because he was of Mexican ancestry. A furious LBJ fought to have the man buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Now, many of LBJ's initiatives as President, under the auspices of his war on poverty, strike against my conservative political leanings, and I firmly believe that many of his policies lay at the foundation of the tremendous national debt that cripples us today, BUT I believe that LBJ was acting out of a genuine desire to make America and its citizens better. I do not question his love for country.

I write these things to make an observation and offer an impassioned plea. The observation is this: too often, in today's political climate (and also, more sadly, in the realm of religion) those who stand on opposite sides of the aisle are quick to condemn the other as an adversary and dismiss their sanity and loyalty to country. We relish our partisan divides and seek to discredit and even destroy the one who thinks differently than us. We are quick to forget that they, too, love their country and seek its best. We are quick to forget that we, too, are human, and our understanding may not always be complete or the wisest.

Shifting from politics to religion, I see this same dynamic at play. In Churches of Christ, today, there are competing camps. And, persons on both sides of the divide are lobbing attacks at each other and seeking to denigrate the other with as much fervor as the Democrats versus Republicans. How sad. How sinful.

Let us seek to understand instead of to condemn.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There's Always a New Day

February 25th has become my most UNfavorite day of the year. On February 25, 2008 my marriage came to an end. I did not seek or want a divorce, but it happened. And, in some measure, I will bear its shame for the rest of my life.

Our lives are filled with good days, days of joy and success, days we remember with relish. But, we also all have those handful of days we would rather forget. Those are the days remembered in our nightmares.

I can remember the day one June when I was told that Coach Dean had been killed in a motorcycle accident. I was crushed, as were all of my 7th grade classmates at Lubbock Christian School. I was only his student for that one year, but Coach Dean had a tremendous impact on me. To hear he was gone . . . that was a blow!

I can remember the night I resigned as campus minister for the Green Lawn church. It was time for me to move on. I had done all I could in the job, and it was time for someone else to step in. But, I loved that work (it remains the favorite of all the jobs I've had). The feelings I felt that night came rushing back on the afternoon I stepped away from my job as preacher for the Cortez Church of Christ. The circumstances were much different, but the feeling of emptiness was similar.

I can remember the night Dale Hukle told me that he was leaving the Green Lawn church as youth minister. I was a 15 year old kid thinking I was losing my hero. Of course, his departure from Lubbock facilitated my introduction to Camp Blue Haven (where he would serve as director) and Denver, Colorado (where he would go as youth minister). But, that van ride home so many years ago will always stand out as a great moment of sadness in my life.

I can remember the night my dad called with the news that my grandfather had suffered a massive stroke. It was a Saturday night; in a few hours I was scheduled to deliver my first sermon as preacher for the Idalou Church of Christ. My grandfather inspired me to be a preacher. My grandfather instilled in me a great love for small, rural churches. I was looking forward to his sharing in my work at Idalou, just as he had done on occasion at Childress and Hollis, but that would not happen.

Days of sadness. We all have them. Living in this world, no matter how we may try, we cannot avoid them. They will come. We will experience them. We must. BUT, there's always a new day. In my 38 years (and counting) of life, February 26 has never failed to replace the 25th. And, my faith in God's promises tells me that it never will fail to come until ultimately the 26th dawns in eternity!

This past year has been difficult, especially those long stretches of being away from my beautiful children. But, in the past year, I have seen so many evidences of the new dawn. Life has continued. God remains good and ever-present.

Deep In the Heart of Texas

The San Saba River south of Brady, Texas, and court houses in Mason and Anson. I love the architecture of old Texas court houses. These two are especially stately.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Born at City Hall?

I took my first breath in this building 39 years ago (May 20, 1970). Back then, it was a hospital. Today, Groom, Texas is mostly known for the "Tallest Cross in the Western Hemisphere" that stands on the west end of town and the leaning water tower on the east end of town. I'd like to say I put the town on the map, but I'm certain that would be an exaggeration!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Most Significant Presidents

On this President's Day, I offer my list of America's most significant chief executives. Now, I am neither a presidential scholar, nor the son of one, but I like history, and I am intrigued by the men who have led this country.

The basic criteria for my list is those presidents who have had the greatest impact on American history in terms of politics, economics, culture, and international relations . . . for the good or bad. So, this is not a listing of America's best presidents, but a listing of those who have the most lasting effect, positive or negative. I welcome your comment and debate.

  1. George Washington (the man who got it all started; it's hard to beat that)
  2. Abraham Lincoln (the man who preserved the Union, and, intentionally or not, directed us to a greater social conscience)
  3. Franklin Roosevelt (not my favorite, and many of today's fiscal problems can be laid at his feet, but that's just the point, can you imagine modern America without FDR?)
  4. Ronald Reagan (ended the Cold War and ushered in the greatest economic development in history)
  5. Theodore Roosevelt (the first to carry the "big stick")
  6. James Monroe (Manifest Destiny)
  7. George W. Bush (you scoff, but just wait)
  8. Thomas Jefferson (it's hard to keep him off this list)
  9. Richard Nixon (perhaps for all the wrong reasons, but his domestic and foreign policy accomplishments are overlooked in deference to his crimes)
  10. Andrew Jackson (a certifiable racist, but a populist, and the first to break the "glass ceiling" of elitism)
  11. Barack Obama (for all the wrong reasons; while I would like to remain optimistic, I fear that it will take generations to undo the harm and recover from his policies)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Relax! Take a break!

Let the fate of Pheiddipedes be a warning to us.

The year was 490 B.C., and the Greeks and Persians were at war. The Persians had the upper hand: they had just destroyed the Greek city of Eretria and were on the march again toward the plain of Marathon, in the heart of the Grecian homeland . . . just miles from the great city of Athens.

Seeing the approaching Persian army, a Greek soldier, by the name of Pheiddipedes, ran as hard as he could, and without stopping, the more than 20 miles that separated Athens from Sparta. He ran to bring the terrible news of the Persian advance and ask the Spartans for their support in fighting the Persians. But, as soon as he arrived in Sparta and delivered his urgent message, Pheiddipedes dropped dead from exhaustion. Pheiddipedes had given his life for the run.

Modern America is a busy place. Everyone, it seems is on the go from morning till night. Our jobs demand hours of our attention, perhaps as much as 16 hours each day, and we face deadlines that become all the more pressing. Even at home, the pace of life does not seem to slow. Chores need to be done. Pets and livestock need tending. Sporting events beckon. Civic duties cry for our attention. Even the youngest of our children are bustled about at school and in their extra-curricular activities. And so, we often find ourselves in the sandals of Pheiddipides, running a race at a pace that may eventually kill us.

We need moments of rest, moments when we step out of the race and take a much needed breather. Even the Super Bowl is interrupted for halftime. The World Series has a seventh inning stretch each game. Marathon runners slow the pace a bit to grab a cup of Gatorade. So, why shouldn't we follow suit and ease it up a bit? Have we forgotten God's action on the seventh day?

Many people feel guilty relaxing. "Idle hands make for the devil's handiwork," we say as we keep ourselves always on the go and always at work. But busyness without proper rest wreaks havoc on people's lives. People become too stressed because of the hectic schedule they keep. Stress produces illness in the body and difficulty in relationships and even has a detrimental affect on one's spirituality. The pressure builds until something has to give. Often, the results are tragic.

So, take a break. Relax! Schedule regular and purposeful times of rest, times of contemplation and leisure and play, times with family and friends. You will find that your work will profit.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jesus said, "Go!"

I am not a professional mountain climber, and I do not scale cliffs in my pastime, but I'm wise enough to know this: when you're climbing, you don't stay too long in one place.

Skilled climbers race up the rock face. They pause from time to time, but only to test the firmness of their stance and to evaluate their next move. Remaining stationary is rarely a good option, because it is then that fatigue sets in and the force of gravity begins to exert its crushing weight.

Churches have a tendency to remain stationary, often for years at a time. Complacency is usually the culprit. There is a certain satisfaction with the status quo. We like to be comfortable. We like to be in a routine where everything is familiar.

The church that is stationary is a congregation that is not driven to preach the Gospel beyond rick walls and manicured lawns. The church that is stationary is comfortable with those present and accounted for, yet relatively unconcerned about those who are not. A comfortable church revels in the thought of a "job well done," while a world of work is left undone. A comfortable church spends untold sums on the comforts of modern society, while issues of eternal consequence receive what little remains.

"Go." Jesus used the word a lot. "Go and sin no more." "Go and do likewise." "Go and make disciples." How can one go and remain stationary at the same time? Aren't the two behaviors at odds with each other?

Have we lost our way? When did the comforts of this world become more important than seeking and saving the lost?

What were the instructions Jesus gave to the twelve as he sent them out into the world? He said, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunic. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them" (Luke 9.3-5).

I know that some attention needs to be give to the physical needs of a congregation. Buildings require upkeep. But, what's more important to us: padded pews or the soul of one who has never heard the name of Jesus because no missionary has ever visited his village?

Jesus said, "Go!" Are we scaling the cliff, moving upward with all of the gusto we can give, or are we standing still, comfortable, complacent, stationary?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Lesson from McClellan

General George S. McClellan was a smart general. Trouble was, he never won a battle.

McClellan graduated first in his class at West Point. His intellect was better than most. As the Civil War erupted, President Abraham Lincoln called on McClellan to be commander of the Union Army of Northern Virginia, the main fighting force arrayed against the armies of the Confederacy.

In every respect, McClellan's force was superior to that of his Confederate counterpart. He had General Robert E. Lee out-manned, out-gunned, out-resourced, and out-trained. Unfortunately, McClellan lacked the initiative and daring of Lee and the Confederate Army.

McClellan was timid. Before he sent his troops into battle he wanted every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed. He spent hour after hour drilling his troops and scouting out the enemy, waiting for the perfect momen to strike. As noble as his efforts were, they were all for naught. McClellan's army never won a battle against its adversary.

Timidiy can cripple the strongest man in the world and make him susceptible to the smallest of foes. Timidity on the part of churches has resulted in an attitude of complacency (if not downright satisfaction) expressed toward dwindling numbers. Timidity on the part of churches has resulted in a desire to focus on the home-front while the mission field is neglected. Timidity on the part of churches has resulted in the abandonment of the number one rule of church growth: "Plant the seed, and God will provide the growth." Timidity on the part of churches has resulted on congregations that have little or no standing in the community and that have virtually no reputation for doing good. Timidity on the part of churches finds fulfillment in the status quo.

Boldness (notice, I did not say brashness) . . . boldness is a product of faith. It is confidence in God's eternal presence and provision of his people. Let us boldly be the people of God in this world. Let us not be intimidated by any task. Let us not doubt any outcome. Let us boldly put to use our abilities, resources, and opportunities. Let us not give the initiative to our Enemy, for timidity has never led one to victory, but is all-to-often the path to defeat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have you ever stood at the sunset . . . ?

The Cross at Groom, Texas (east of Amarillo). I was born in the hospital at Groom on May 20, 1970. (The cross is a more recent addition.)

Oklahoma City

An hour after I took these photos, I was dodging a tornado!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Music for the Road

In the past 18 months I have travelled over 60,000 miles across much of our vast and beautiful country . . . and for most of those miles I have been alone, except for the companionship of my radio and CD player. I love music--music of all kinds--and without my growing CD collection, the many miles would be that much longer. Below is a listing of my travelling companions during this current trip through New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

  • Ricky Skaggs
  • U2
  • Rolling Stones
  • Michael W. Smith
  • Chris Tomlin
  • Alison Krauss
  • Buddy Holly
  • Michael Martin Murphy
  • Hallal
  • The Police
  • Jeremy Camp
  • Dolly Parton
  • Casting Crowns
  • The ZOE Project
  • B. B. King
  • Johnny Cash
  • The Temptations
  • Matt Maher
  • Acapelle Praise & Harmony
  • The BeatlesRandy Travis

Of course, there's also been a heavy does of The Doctor of Democracy, as well.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pinson Mounds

Today, I spent a few minutes touring the Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park between Henderson (FHU) and Jackson, Tennessee. The park is known for the 17 mounds built by Native Americans nearly 2,000 years ago. The tallest of these mounds, known as Sauls' Mound, is in the photo above. The photo below was taken on the park grounds (the moon looked bigger in person).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Random Thoughts

At the moment, I'm sitting approximately 200 feet from the very spot I was in a year ago today. The most significant change: last year I was dodging a F-4 tornado that tore its way through Jackson, Tennessee. No chance of that happening today. Clear skies and 40 degrees!

The USA Today included several letters written by children to President Obama. Here is one of them: "Dear President Obama: You are awesome!! Some things you should do are: 1. Stop the use of oil in cars. 2. Clean up the ocean. 3. Help animals that are endangered. 4. Help immigrants get better jobs. 5. Give money to schools. 6. Fire the governor of California. Love, Hilda Herrera, age 12, San Francisco." I'll withhold commentary.

For the past couple of days, I've been listening to the Zoe Group album, In Christ Alone. The track, Magnificat, is especially uplifting.

Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, died on Tuesday. He used his fortune to bless the lives of economically disadvantaged families. What a great legacy.

I am more than tired of the judgmental and legalistic spirit espoused by too many Christians. May the mercy of God in Christ guide us more and more!