Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dine'tah: An Appeal

Six years ago, I knew very little about the Navajo people (Dine') and the vast and beautiful Navajoland (Dine'tah). My education on these matters is still a work in progress, but in these past 6 years I have come to have a great respect and love for the Navajo. I find their history fascinating. I admire their triumphs (Navajo art, in particular, is among the most creative and beautiful of that of any culture in the world). I grieve over their challenges. I am anything but a "bleeding heart," but I am ashamed of the way earlier Americans treated the Navajo and other native peoples.

After six years of living close to the Navajo Nation reservation, I have witnessed firsthand the foolish (and, I will add, racist) policy of generations past of rounding up native peoples and driving them to "reservations." Often, our government placed these peoples on lands that were the poorest and most remote. No walls were built, but once the reservation boundaries were determined (and changed many times, by the way, by the bureaucrats in Washington), little effort was made to teach the indians new skills, or to provide modern infrastructure that would make assimilating into American culture easier. There were some basic and noble efforts made, to be sure, but these were few and far between. Most cruel of all, perhaps, our government brought in alcohol to "pacify" the indians and to quell dissension and revolts. Oh, what great tragedy alcohol has brought to the reservations.

The past cannot be undone, but the present and future can be better, much better. As I live and work among the Navajo, I see a people who love life, who are bright and industrious, who are honest and good-natured. I see a people who, when given half a chance, can excel and do great things. I continually pray that the resources and opportunities needed for continued and accelerated advancement of the Navajo will come. Share this prayer with me.

Of course, my primary interest here is with the children of the Navajo nation, particularly those children who are in crisis, whose families are beyond dysfunction and who are in great need. We at the Manuelito Navajo Children's Home are striving to help these children and families. We need partners in our ministry to enable us to extend our reach and to take more children into our care. Will you help us? Please make a contribution to our cause today.

As you consider this plea, let me share with you some statistics that describe, in some small measure, life on the Navajo reservation:

  • There is 58% unemployment on the Navajo reservation
  • Annual per ca pita income is around $7,300 (try feeding and housing a family on $7,300 a year!)
  • 32% of houses lack plumbing
  • 20% of houses lack electricity
  • 50% of children drop out of school
  • Fewer than 7% of adult Navajos have college degrees
  • 90% of the population is impacted by alcoholism (either personally or through a close family member)
  • The median lifespan among men living on the reservation is 46 years (read this sentence again! . . . that's over 30 years shorter than in the wider American society!)
  • 20% of families are intact; 80% of families are fractured!

Manuelito Navajo Children's Home is just one of the efforts by Churches of Christ to share the love and message of Jesus Christ to the Navajo. Today, churches can be found in at least ten communities on the Reservation. Many of these congregations are being led by Navajo preachers. In the coming days and weeks, I will introduce these workers here on my blog and on my Facebook group, Churches of Christ Navajo Mission. Please pray for these men, their families, and the churches with whom they work. Pray for the effort to bring Christ to this beautiful and noble people. Do more than pray, become involved personally and financially.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Autumn Grace

Note: I wrote this article in the days before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation. My youngest daughter, Autumn Grace Foster, was born on September 10, 2002, just 43 minutes shy of 9/11/02.

It was not planned, but it seems to be happening. Tomorrow, Tuesday, if everything goes well, my wife and I will be welcoming a third child into our family. It wasn't until this week that I thought of the coinciding anniversary.

Wednesday marks the one year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. It will be, in many quarters, a day of somber reflection, with thoughts given to those 3,000 innocent lives brought to an end on that harrowing day. How awkward it will be rejoicing over the birth of a child.

But should it be awkward? From death comes life. Is this not the message of the Gospel? Paul said the message would be met with ridicule and disbelief, for it is foolish to believe that life comes from death, that the cross represents an object of power and not shame; but such is the case with the Gospel.

When all is bleak, when the world seems to be crumbling down all around, there can be hope of a new day dawning. peter says that men and women of faith have a "living hope," a hope realized in Jesus Christ and the new birth found in him (1 Peter 1.3-5). So, is it awkward to be rejoicing over a new life on the anniversary of a day of death?

Christians look forward. Doesn't this attribute set us apart from the world? We have a tomorrow that is certain, that is real, that cannot be shaken or taken away.

My heart goes out to those whose lives were tragically affected on that Fall day one year ago. My prayer is that they find peace. My prayer is that they find peace. My prayer is that they come to know God's abiding presence and his autumn grace.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blame To Go Around?

The indictment of Roger Clemens for lying to Congress has been the major sports' headline of the week. I wrote the following piece a couple of years ago, in response to the issuance of the Mitchell Report detailing steroid use in Major League Baseball.

I wasn't surprised. Disappointed, yes. Angry, a little. Surprised, unfortunately not.

I'm speaking of the Mitchell Report on steroids in Major League Baseball released yesterday. The long list of names did not surprise me . . . even Roger Clemens.

I've been a Clemens fan since he came up with the Red Sox in 1985. The '86 Red Sox club remains one of my all-time favorites . . . even Bill Buckner! Like Barry Bonds, Clemens was a potential Hall of Famer before he began taking steroids. According to the Mitchell Report (and its voracity seems ironclad to me), Clemens began to "juice" during the 1998 season, while he was pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bonds, according to the allegations made against him, started his steroids regimen following the 1998 season, that "magical" year when Mark McGwire and Sammy Soso were pursuing and ultimately passed Roger Maris for the single-season home run record. Before 1998, both Clemens and Bonds had already posted numbers that guaranteed their induction into Cooperstown. Clemens had already been awarded 4 Cy Young Awards, as many as any pitcher in history (to that point), and Bonds was already a 4-time M.V.P. Before 1998, both Clemens and Bonds had been in the Major Leagues for over 12 seasons. But, when most players should be satisfied with their careers and looking forward to retirement, Clemens and Bonds were searching for an edge, for something that would keep them competitive for years to come.

Was it for the money? It is a fact that Clemens and Bonds have earned millions more in the years since 1998 than they earned in the 12+ years before. Their motivation to juice could simply be a case of greed . . . wanting an ever increasing series of contracts.

Was it the need for acclaim? It is true that those we place on pedestals often get addicted to the praise and adulation we give them. We've all heard stories of the washed up athlete everyone has forgotten. Does anyone remember Danny White? At one time, he was the highest-rated passer in the NFL. He led the Cowboys to three straight NFC Championship Games. Yet, today, when people think of the Dallas Cowboys and the great quarterbacks that the franchise has had, the list usually includes Meridith, Staubach, Aikman, and, now, Romo. White is conspicuously absent. My point? Simply that our athletes, once they leave the playing stage, are often forgotten. Perhaps Clemens and Bonds could not bear the fact of being pushed off the stage, so they sought to prolong their careers as long as possible.

Was it jealousy? In the book written a few years ago outlining Bonds' purported steroid use, the authors claim that Bonds began his usage following the 1998 season because he was angry and jealous over the acclaim given to McGwire and Sosa, both of whom he was convinced had used performance enhancing drugs. The book claims that Bond was angry that his hard work was being overshadowed by those who, in his mind, cheated. The authors claim that Bonds decided to sell himself out and show that he could outdo anyone. He had done so clean (before 1998), and now he would do so on a level playing field with McGwire and the others.

By speculating as I have, I am not trying to rationalize the behavior of Clemens and Bonds and others like them. They cheated. Major League Baseball should respond accordingly. If I were a Hall of Fame voter, I would refuse to induct anyone who is shown to have purposefully and systematically used performance-enhancing drugs. That hurts to say, because I was as much a fan of Mark McGwire as I have been Roger Clemens. I was never a fan of Barry Bonds, but I acknowledge him as the greatest ballplayer of my generation (and that was before 1998). But, cheating should carry with it consequences.

My larger point, however, is that society at large has helped produced the circumstances that fueled these men in their excesses. Perhaps the publication of the Mitchell Report should cause all of us to pause and reflect on how we put too much emphasis on athletes and athletics. Instead of making the sports stars stand at the pinnacle of our pedestals, why don't we place much of the acclaim we give them to our school teachers, public servants, those who keep the peace and security of the community, and the blue collar workers who have built this country and keep it running?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Life Is Worth the Effort

You know, life is a lot like scaling a rock-climbing wall. Commitment/choice. Effort. Strategy/forward thinking. Concentration. Assistance. Exhaustion. Exhilaration. Failure. Success. All of these are involved in the rock-climbing experience and also with life.

A lot of life is grounded around the choices and commitments we make and don't make. For some, even many, choices can be confounding, perhaps crippling. But, life cannot be taken for granted, we must place one foot in front of the other. Life isn't a conveyor belt. We can't sit around hoping life will come to us (in the form of a great paycheck, a hot date, a thrill of a lifetime, whatever our anticipation is centered on) . . . we have to take a step and go after it. When climbing a rock-wall, you must reach your arm up to a handhold and lift your foot up to a foothold and pull your body up; the apparatus isn't going to do the work for you. You must decide to go!

Effort is certainly a component of life. Life is work. It doesn't come easy, even to those who seem to live on Easy Street. Life is a marathon (actually, a series of marathons); it is not a sprint; it is not a casual Sunday stroll. There will be some lulls along the way. Even moments where we can stop and smell the roses. But, there are gonna be some long, rough slugs as well. Moments (or, years!) when we're trudging up a 9% grade (on a good day!), with the wind howling around us and rain beating in our face. But, there is a summit, and then it is all down hill . . . that is, of course, until we hit the next hill! Yet, I'm told hat with age and maturity, life begins to level out to a more consistent plain. Hills and plateaus, even mountain ranges, remain, but or aptitude for life grows. Our efforts pay off.

Life requires thought. Mindlessness leads nowhere (or, rather, to some serious pitfalls). Life doesn't come equipped with Autopilot, or cruise control, but with big signs, "Lots of Assembly Required," and "Proceed with Caution." Life is much easier and productive when we look ahead to the horizon (and beyond) and set out goal and then plot the course required to reach that goal. In scaling a rock-climbing wall proficiently, the climber looks above and finds the ideal handholds and footholds, she plots her course with a distinct strategy guiding her way.

Pay attention! How many of life's travails could be avoided, or be made much-less destructive, if we simply paid attention to what we were doing, to our surroundings, to those around us, and to the course before us? Effort is not simply a matter of physical application and force, it is a lot of brain power, as well. Was it Lombardi that said, "Football is 90% mental"? Put "life" in the sentence, and it would be as true.

Life is not lived in a vacuum, with merely ourselves and immediate surroundings. No, life is full myriad things, especially those people close and far. A rock climber rarely will set out on his own; to do so can often be suicidal. Someone is needed to hold the guide rope, to help plot the course, to share in the work of setting spikes and giving a helping hand. Life is best lived when in tandem or association with a partner or partners. After all, God Himself, our Creator, declared, "It is not good for man to be alone." Interconnectedness is a key to life.

Life will be tiring, even exhausting at many points along the way, but there will also be ample exhilaration, when our weariness will drop away and new found energy and excitement will rush over. Remember the exhilaration of scaling a high mountain--the course up filled with tightened muscles, thirst (and, in my case, heavy panting!)--and the moment of finally looking out from the peak onto the valley and plains far below. That's a lot like a new mother and father staring down at their beautiful new child in the moments following a very difficult pregnancy. Or, the proud parents applauding a son as he walks across the graduation stage following the many years of the awkwardness and challenges of raising a child.

Success and failure. Failure and success. Life is filled with both. A rock climber is not always going to find the best hold. He may slip a time or two. H may even have to descent before a successful ascent can be mounted. Keep going. That's the key. Learn from mistakes. Observe the success of others. Try, and try again. Life is worth the effort.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Did I Really Stand In 4 States At Once?

I have called the Four Corners region home for the past 6+ years. The region is so-called, of course, because the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah come together at a point, the only place in the country where 4 states meet together. The Four Corners Monument is a popular tourist attraction, and each year thousands of people come to have their picture taken standing on the Monument marker, the point where people are told the states come together.

BUT, the "locals" know that ain't necessarily so, or at least many of us thought it wasn't so. I have told people for years that the Four Corners Monument was actually off by several hundred yards (2 1/2 miles, in actuality). But, the article I found and attached below contains the full story. I'm excited to say, I learned something today, and happy to know that the $3 I paid to the Navajo Nation to stand on the Monument marker was not wasted money (actually, I've been there 6 times and taken guests each time, so the money "contributed" to the Navajo Nation is substantial . . . especially when you include the "marked up" fry bread you can buy at the sight . . . and who can pass up fry bread?).

Enjoy the article.

Four Corners monument not historically correct

April 20th, 2009 @ 10:17pm
By Alex Cabrero

SALT LAKE CITY -- It's a place where thousands of people a year come to have their picture taken. It's also the only place in America where you can stand in four states at once, or can you?

It turns out the Four Corners Monument isn't exactly where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona were supposed to meet.

"Congress established the 109th Western Meridian as the boundary between Colorado and Utah," said Utah Historian Craig Fuller.

In 1878, the surveyor commissioned to map the boundary line between Utah and Colorado from Four Corners to Wyoming recognized the lines where the four states meet happened to be on the top of a steep plateau.

"He thought it would be a lot easier to survey a point on the flatlands," explained Bill Case, a senior geologist with the Utah Geological Survey. "They tried to get as close to 37 degrees latitude and 109 degrees longitude. That was where the corner of Utah was supposed to be."

However, because of the difficult terrain, the current spot recognized as the Four Corners was chosen. It's nearly 2 and a half miles west from the actual spot.

All four states, and the U.S. Congress, recognized the mistake but decided to allow the current boundary lines to be drawn. That means Utah lost some land, while Colorado gained some.

"What is legal is political, not scientific," Case said. "And it doesn't matter if you make a mistake or not."

Since all the states and the U.S. Congress agreed on the boundaries, it is now the official boundary, which means all those families who take their pictures at the monument are doing so in four states and don't have to climb that plateau to be in the historical spot.

"Yes. Legally, it counts," Case assured.

Recently, a survey done by the National Geodetic Survey found the mistake. The group recognized it using GPS technology and satellite imagine.

Chances are, all four states won't ask to have their boundaries changed, but Fuller says it is always possible.

For example, Fuller says in the past two years there was talk Wendover, Utah, would be ceded to Nevada. That way, West Wendover, Nev., could help solve economic problems and allow for more growth for the Utah city. However, because of money concerns, that deal never happened.

Fuller says it's likely Four Corners won't be moved either. The land in Utah is owned by the Navajo Nation, while the land in Colorado is owned by the Ute Mountain Indian Tribe.

"It's been that way for decades, and the current location where the monument is located is the acceptable spot to be in four states at once," Fuller said.

Case says another way to look at it is that now the old survey marker on top of the plateau is wrong.

"If all the states involved and the U.S. Congress get together and say the current recognized Four Corners is the actual Four Corners, then that's that." Case said. "And since they all did agree on it, the current location of the Four Corners National Monument is the correct location."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Much Of Life Is . . . Waiting!

Waiting . . . I'm not very good at it. Usually, I'm downright awful at it. Patience is certainly a virtue . . . that I find very difficult to master.

How much of your life is spent waiting? You stand in a line to order a Big Mac. You wait for the light to turn to green. Your phone call is placed on hold. You are waiting for your pay check. When is that child coming home? When will the boss notice my hard work? Will the Cubs finally win it all this season? You get the point. Much of our lives are spent waiting.

You've been there, I'm sure. You can relate.

But, waiting can be as instructive as it is frustrating. Waiting can help us refine our thoughts, to clear our resolve, to give us time to come up the answers that have been eluding us, to allow for an opportunity for solutions to make themselves known and for resources to be realized. Waiting can build our faith in God, deepen our trust in Him to see us through, to deliver us to a place of peace and wellness.

Waiting can help me realize that rashness is rarely well-grounded.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on Church Buildings

I am in and out of lots of different church buildings each week as I make visits for Manuelito Navajo Children's Home. It is obvious that Churches of Christ have been in the midst of a building boom over the past couple of decades, or so. I am surprised at the number of new facilities I am seeing. I am impressed by the architecture and practicality of these new structures. It is obvious that there is an intent to make church buildings attractive, accessible, and usable throughout the week and for a variety of activities, and not just Sunday worship. But, I do have some observations to make.

  • To build a church building on the same block as another church building seems wrong to me. You've seen such places, where two or more churches are located on the same intersection. I've seen more than one intersection that has a church facility built on each corner! Does this sight not send a negative message to the community at large? It is certainly not a picture of unity. It is too much like the sight of competing filling stations or fast food restaurants and presents an image of the church that is not consistent with the Gospel.

  • A church building without windows is one of the most unattractive sights I see. Maybe I'm being too particular, but a church without windows suggests one thing to me . . . a group that is closed off from the world about it. Or, put another way, a group that is closed-minded and unwilling to look beyond itself. Now, I know, that architecture is not necessary a reflection on theology, but perception . . . the analysis of those looking at us . . . is important. A church without windows (and a hard to find, or unwelcoming entryway, by the way) is uninviting to outsiders.

  • A church facility that is left to deteriorate and is unkempt suggests a lot to people passing by. A dead lawn, as superficial a thing as that is, communicates . . . and not positively. A few flowers and a kept lawn can brighten up a place as much as, and perhaps more than, a multi-million dollar face lift!

  • When the church building supplants the home as a center of activity, then I think something is wrong. I know many churches where the vast majority of fellowship activities are held at the church campus, so much so that families are no longer entertaining others in their houses. I grew up in a large congregation with a large building, including a youth center that would accommodate a hundred people. And, we had many activities there, BUT the activities I looked forward to were the ones held in someone's home. Those Sunday night devotionals hosted by various families were some of my favorite youth group activities. Sadly, it seems that in many places such activities are a thing of the past. There's a point where our buildings become too practical.

  • It is sad, and I believe sinful, when a congregation mortgages their mission obligations to build a new meeting place. I know of so many evangelistic and benevolent works that have lost much needed support because some church wanted to build a gymnasium. I believe God mourns over these frivolous choices.

I have been in many multi-million dollar places of worship, BUT my favorite places to worship include a rustic log chapel at Pine Springs Youth Camp, Fisher Hall at Quartz Mountain Christian Camp (basically a roof over some hard metal "pews", a lakeside amphitheater at Camp Blue Haven, and a 15-passenger van I once wrote about. I love the words of Jesus, "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18.20). (Yes, I acknowledge that the immediate context of this statement is not worship, but there certainly is a principle implied that guides our worship.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cleaning Up Another Man's Trash

Nancy and I have spent the past two evenings cleaning up a big mess . . . one we didn't create. We have a house in Luther, Oklahoma that we rent out. Our most recent tenant left on July 24, cutting his lease short by 21 months . . . and leaving the house, to put it mildly, trashed out. Every room was literally covered in old clothing, broken toys, busted furniture, wadded up paper, empty (and not so empty) food cartons and containers, dishes, clothes hangers . . . and a few (actually, several) dirty diapers. I won't even begin to describe what we found piled in the storm cellar.

Have you ever cleaned up a mess left by others? If you have lived any length of time, at all, I imagine you have. It is not pleasant, is it? And a bit (or a lot) irritating! And, hopefully, it should cause us to stop and think.

Stop and think, that is, about our own actions and the affect they have on other people. Because, it seems likely (and, sadly, I am speaking to myself as much as anybody else) that at times we have left messes for others to clean up. And, I'm not just speaking literally, but figuratively, as well. Perhaps it was some instance of irresponsibility on our part, when other people suffered because of work we left undone, or underdone. Or perhaps it was when we weren't thinking, when we were distracted, when we were thinking way too much about ourselves than about anybody else. Maybe it was deliberate--we knew what we were doing, and we knew that our actions would adversely affect others, and . . . we just didn't care!

We do not live life in a vacuum. What we do affects other people. Maybe only slightly. Sometimes, and even often times, significantly! Hopefully not to the level of a house filled with stinking garbage, but certainly to the point where we should stop and think about how what we are doing will affect those around us.

Let us all live our lives with the desire to give and not take, to serve and not be served . . . to love and not disregard!

It is so nice to report that our house is now clean and, as of next Monday, newly occupied!

Monday, August 2, 2010

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."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is Your Fish In Clear View?

Recently, I was asked about the significance of the "fish symbol." You know to what I am referring, the simple outline of a fish you see displayed on car bumpers, clothing, bookmarks, and the like.

The symbol of the fish was a mark or sign employed by early Christians. These believers, especially during times of state persecution, were often hesitant to let their Christian identity be publicly known and employed a variety of methods to "reveal" themselves to fellow Christian bothers and sisters in a discreet manner. One method was the use of the "fish symbol," and it was employed in a number of ways, including as embroidery on one's clothing, a symbol painted or affixed to one's dwelling, and a mark placed so as to direct worshippers to a secret assembly place.

The choice of the fish as a Christian symbol was not without meaning. The Greek word for fish, ichthus, was used as an acrostic. Each letter from the word signified a title: the iota ("I") stood for Iesous, or "Jesus"; the chi ("Ch") stood for Christos, or "Christ"; the theta ("Th") stood for Theos, or "God"; the upsilon ("U") stood for Huios, or "Son"; and the sigma ("S") stood for Soter, or "Savior." So together, the acrostic formed a simple Creed: "Jesus Christ, God's Son and Savior."

Today the display of the "fish symbol" has lost its significance for many. It has become a decorative piece more than an icon. The fear of violent persecution is not present, at least in this country, and so men and women of faith are not as fearful to let the world know their mark--to pronounce that they bear the name of Christ. Times have changed: instead of a fish symbol discreetly sketched into the bark of a tree, we are able to erect a noticeable sign on the curb of our public property.

However, have the times really changed that much? Do many not seek to hide their Christian identity, not purposely to avoid persecution, but to purposely avoid embarrassment? How many people live their lives "for God" one or two days a week only to devote the balance of the week "for self"? Certainly, by many, the identity of Christ is hidden from co-workers, fellow students, and family members; it is tucked away so others will not laugh, be offended, or exclude one from "fun." And the Christian name is checked at the door so as to allow one to "live it up" and "let loose" without the burden of a guilty conscience.

I hope that we can sing the lyrics of Isaac Watts with the passion they are due; "I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, nor to defend his cause; maintain the honors of his Word, the glory of his cross."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dads, Are We Serious?

It is factual to say that most churches are made up of more women than men, usually by a ratio of nearly two to one. This has certainly been the trend for the past 50 years, and perhaps for much longer. Women, by and large, are more spiritually-inclined and more committed to Christian duty than their male counterparts.

God, however, primarily entrusted men with the role of spiritual leadership in the household. It was to fathers that Moses, speaking the words of God, said, "Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lied down and when you arise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6.6-9).

These words form the Shema, a constant reminder of God's sovereignty and one's personal commitment to God, and of the father's obligation to instruct his children to honor God and his law. The Rabbis taught that these words were to be recited by husbands and fathers with the evening prayers at the close of each day, and again with the morning prayers at the dawning of each new day. The importance of religious instruction in the household was not to be dismissed.

Today, many men have dismissed their obligation to provide spiritual leadership in the household. Religious instruction is left to wives and mothers, or to ministers and teachers. And, we wonder why so many have forsaken God and why our culture has become so corrupt and evil.

Fathers, it is said by sociologists that we have the greatest influence over the spiritual development of your children. The children of a father who dismisses church involvement and spiritual disciplines are much more likely to forsake such values, themselves, when they reach adulthood. These findings represent no trend, but are founded upon God's creative order. Husbands and fathers, God has given us a responsibility. Have we taken it seriously?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Most Overlooked Passage

"John answered, 'Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.' But Jesus said to him, 'Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you'" (Luke 9.49-50).

Is this the most overlooked passage in the Bible? I believe that a case can be made that it is one of the most forgotten passages in Scripture. The episode is brief, and this may contribute to the disregard shown it. The episode is challenging, and perhaps this is a more likely reason it is overlooked.

What are the implications of this short encounter between John and Jesus? Do we dismiss the story as incidental and not worthy of much attention? Or do we see this brief exchange between Jesus and a disciple as a teachable moment filled with some far-reaching principle?

"We tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us," John complains. "Do not stop him," Jesus responds, "for whoever is not against you is for you."

Certainly too much can be read into this dialogue and our interpretation of it can be too extreme if not tempered with reason, but surely it offers us some advice on how to relate to others who act and speak in Jesus' name. Let's consider the implications.

Is Jesus condemning all criticism and ostracism of anyone who operates under the guise of Christianity? After all the agent of John's ire was "casting out demons in his name." What is meant by John's objection, "he does not follow with us"?

We are certainly expected and, I believe, obligated to counter false teaching, teaching that perverts the gospel and places the souls of people in peril, but we are to do so reluctantly and cautiously while making absolutely certain that the grounds of our objection to what we deem as false is secure and not based solely on our "own" sense of right and wrong. We can be too quick to judge, and we often judge others on the basis of what we feel is right or according to that which with we are personally comfortable. Our judgments are most often made according to our personal experiences and traditions, and so we are quick to condemn anything that is new, innovative, or different from our own practices.

Are not many of our criticisms of other religious people and groups focused on trivial matters, matters of opinion, and matters where we cannot quote chapter and verse with gravel-pounding authority? Yet are not the criticisms of false teachers in the New Testament always centered on bedrock theological principles--matters such as a proper understanding of God the Father, Christ, and grace? Where are the controversies that are so prevalent today, controversies that are given so much of our focus today? Certainly the controversies of yesterday will differ from the controversies of today--the passing of time necessarily redefines the sources of conflict. Yet should we not take some guidance from the approach of Paul, Peter, James . . . and yes from Jesus? "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Prayer to the God Who Sees

Father God, help me to see as you see, or at the very least to realize and be comforted by the fact that you see all when my vision is often very limited. My perspective is often quite small, Father. My sight is obstructed by time and place, by the limitations of my physical presence, by my intellect and understanding (which are both quite human and not omniscient like you), by my prejudices and hangups, by my sin and stubbornness, and by the sin and deception of others. But, you, Father, can see past through all of these things to see the Big Picture. Thus, I must trust you and depend upon you . . . to accept the guidance you give. I get so impatient. I want a resolution now to the trials I experience. But, you are the one who sees, and I will trust in you to see me through.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Humans Are A Lot Like Turtles

Humans are a lot like turtles: we have shells. Not a physical shell that protects us from the elements or from predators, but a shell we create and modify throughout the years of our lifetime--an emotional sphere in which we can feel comfortable, secure, and unthreatened.
Sometimes we call our sphere a comfort zone. We are careful to engage in activities that don't overly stress us, to accept those beliefs that do not overly challenge us, and to relate to people that do not overly intimidate us. New activities, beliefs, and people often present us with a challenge.
Do you remember when a new student was introduced into your classroom at school? There was a nervousness in the air, wasn't there? "Is he going to be weird?" you asked yourself. "Will I fit in?" he wondered to himself. In time, however, these anxieties dissipated as the "new kid" gradually became incorporated into the life of your class. Fear was weakened through the expanse of knowledge and experience.
We live in a time when the culture about us is changing at an unprecedented rate. It is easy to become intimidated by the evolution of society. It is easy to shrink back into our shells and desire to live as if it were yesterday. But, adaptability is an essential component of life.
If you were to take a snapshot of the church standing on the threshold of the 21st Century and compare it to one taken of thew 1st Century Church, would the pictures be a mirror-image of one another? In certain respects, yes: we share in the fundamentals of Christian faith. In certain respects, no: we may differ in terms of methodology and practice. The passage of time results in the transformation of any organism or institution.
The Gospel of Jesus is timeless and the faith we express and practice is not affected by the transformation of society and culture. However, our methods of teaching and worship, service and fellowship, are often affected by time, and rightfully so. And, thus, when certain circumstances such as lessened effectiveness demand change let us not fear new things, but approach them with a rationality founded on the Spirit's direction, study, and prayer.

Remember the 1st Century church as it wrestled with the inclusion of Gentile converts within the boundary of Christian fellowship. The church was faced with a dilemma and the specter of newness. Many sought to withdraw within their shells--within their established comfort zones--and not attain to a new plateau. Many sought God's guidance, stepping out of their shells, and becoming transformed into a people ready to confront the next challenge.
Where do we stand today?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Is Prayer?

Prayer is a conversation with God. A conversation requires at least two parties engaged in shared thought and expression. Prayer occurs within a context of God speaking to us through his word, history, other people, and his creation.

Prayer is a product of faith. Prayer is predicated on the belief that someone is listening. In Matthew 6.5-8, Jesus condemns two falso approaches to prayer: (1) religious ritual for the show of it, and (2) calling on God out of habit and custom. Prayer must be passionate and come from an active faith that God is the Father who loves his children.

Prayer is an act of humility. We come before God acknowledging that he is the Creator and Sustainer of life. In Matthew 6.9-10, Jesus prays, "Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven."

Prayer can be spoken or unspoken. Prayers do not have to be articulated, they can be thought. And, in Romans 8.26, Paul says, "We do not not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."

Prayer can be private or public. We should have a daily habit of personal prayer. We should pray regularly with our family, friends, and the church.

Prayer can be temporal and unceasing. We pray at isolated moments, but prayer should envelope the whole of our lives. In 1 Thessalonians 5.17, Paul commands, "Pray continually (without ceasing)."

Prayer can be self-centered or focused on others. We should pray for ourselves and for others. Paul's description of Epaphras is beautiful: "Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured."

Prayer must be a work in progress. Like our faith, we must grow in prayer. Our understanding and practice of prayer must progress and mature during the course of our lifetime. If we are saying the same prayers at 65 that we said when we were 25, something isn't right.

To the righteous man, prayer is effective. James says, "The prayer of a righteous man is pwoerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops" (Jas 5.16-18).

Prayer is a blessing. The psalmist praises, "I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live" (Ps 116.1-2).

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Are Your Treasured Possessions?

We collect a lot of stuff over the course of a lifetime.

From time to time, every family has a garage sale or yard sale. The time comes to part with many of the things acquired over the years. The lack of use and a shortage of storage are usually the reasons for the effort to downsize.

I have found that the process of selecting items to post for sale is difficult. It is odd how attached we become to things. I know that certain items have a sentimental value—they remind us of special people, of fond occasions, and the like—but they are things, they are things of this world.

Are we as attached to the spiritual treasures we have?

Prayer is a wonderful blessing. The opportunity to stand (or sit, kneel, lay, etc.) before God and communicate to him our thoughts, praises, feelings, and longings is a treasure beyond value. Yet, how often do we relegate prayer to a 30-second corner of our day? How many times is prayer left at the mercy of work schedules, family fun, and allure of the living room idol (TV, of course)?

The study of God’s Word is a wonderful blessing. The Creator of the Universe has expressed himself to us in the pages of the Bible—contemplate the great treasure that has been placed in our hands. Yet, do we cherish moments spent reading and listening, meditating and learning? A three-hour sporting contest doesn’t eat up too much our day, but 30 minutes of reading is thought too much?

Togetherness with men and women of common faith is a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with those who can strengthen our faith, but how often do we neglect meeting together, sharing together, working together? Do we under appreciate time spent with our spiritual family?

How sad it is that we often value more the piles and piles of stuff stored in our garages than we do the countless blessings God has give to us.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do you know this song?

I have spent the week editing and updating my devotional song book. I started the project back in 1990, the summer I began as youth minister for the University Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado. Every 3-5 years, I try to update and enlarge the book, adding songs that are "new" or "newly discovered."

This week, I discovered a song new to me. It is a song with beautiful and meaningful lyrics. But, unfortunately, I do not know the tune. Can you help me out?

Here is the song:

Mighty God
Author Unknown

You are the sunshine and I am a candle
You are the mountain and I am a hill
You are the ocean and I am a river
Winding and swirling and never quite still
Winding and swirling and never quite still

You are a Mighty God, Your deeds are so awesome
Mighty God, I stand amazed
You are a Mighty God, I worship You only
You are so mighty and worthy of praise
You are so mighty and worthy of praise
You are so mighty and worthy of praise

You are the canyon and I am a crevice
You are the heavens and I am a star
You are the thunder and I am a whisper
Quietly longing to be where you are

You are a Mighty God, Your deeds are so awesome
Mighty God, I stand amazed
You are a Mighty God, I worship You only
You are so mighty and worthy of praise
You are so mighty and worthy of praise
You are so mighty and worthy of praise

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To the Teachers of My Children

I did not write the following. I'm not sure who did, but the sentiment is certainly shared by me and the countless others who are continually blessed by Bible class teachers.

An Open Letter to the Teachers of My Children

Two or three times a week I trust you with my most prized jewels, and those two or three times a week, you live up to that trust and return them to me—though not quite the same. Somehow you manage to take them and gradually, week by week, polish them to make them shine a little more than I sometimes think possible. You are patient and wise enough to see the potential for riches in what others may see as only rough ore.

I know you spend much unnoticed time in preparation to teach my children about Jesus. I’ve seen the literally hundreds of objects they bring home to remind them of your object lessons. You always win when I prematurely suggest discarding certain Bible class memorabilia. Much of it has a lot of your TLC, not to mention time and creativity, behind it.

I saw a note one of you wrote to my children, challenging her to be the great Christian leader and example you expect her to be. You even promised to pray for my daughter and reminded her that you are always there if she needs to talk.

Thank you for the time, the love, the prayers, the expectations and the support you devote to my children. And thank you for being a constant reflection of Jesus. They notice. And when they do, so do I.

Please resist the temptation to feel unappreciated. You’re not only appreciated but needed—and not just by my children but by me. And please don’t underestimate your influence or your teaching role on them or me as a parent. My children echo much of what you teach them, probably more than you think they hear. In fact, they remember some of your stories and illustrations long after they are promoted to another class.

As a Bible class teacher, you give my children Christ and yourself. I can’t give you enough thanks.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Gift of Singing

I wrote this article in August 2002, following a camp session at Quartz Mountain Christian Camp in Oklahoma.

At camp two weeks ago, I was reminded of the gift of song. In attendance was a young camper, Brian, who loved to sing. He was not familiar with most of the words to the songs we sang, but still he sang. He was always out of tune, but still he sang. And, on his face, as he sang as loud as could be, there was a beaming smile.

Have we forgotten the gift of song? As we gather to worship, I look around as the songs are sung. The faces I see are often expressionless. Eyes are downcast. The words are more mumbled than spoken. Many just sit there, silent, thoughts wandering to who knows where. We hurry through the songs, to get to the real reason why we came. The songs are made an afterthought . . . a way to pass time? Have we forgotten the gift of song?

“Come, let us sing with joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.” These are the words of Psalm 95, a beautiful song of praise. Little Brian reminded me of these words as he sang with such passion.

What a wonderful gift God has given to us: the ability to lift our voices in song. We are commanded to sing to one another, but not in order to pass the time, or as a means to transition from one act of worship to another. We are commanded to sing to one another in order to encourage and to teach and to inspire and to uplift one another.

Singing is a rather unique act of worship in that we are called upon to join together in one action. A preacher preaches, the congregation listens. A prayer leader words a prayer, the church is present in spirit, but the words remain those of the leader. And, at the Table, our reflections are usually to ourselves. But, as we sing, our voices are lifted as one. We may sing different notes, and the words may not be the same for all, but the effect is singular . . . it is communal: a song from all those present is offered to God.

Come, let us sing with joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.

Monday, July 19, 2010

He Left the Throne of Heaven

Is it not the most beautiful sentence that has even been written? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, ESV).

He left the throne of heaven to become a man. He became a person like you and me. Not for a few hours, or a day, or a week did he come, not even for a month or a year. No, he experienced the fullness of humanity, from birth to death, and he assumed all that is common to life.

He left the throne of heaven and came into the world through the same means that you and I are introduced to life. His conception, albeit miraculous, was followed by a birth that was rather natural. He came not to the halls of kings, but came forth into this world in a stable, in the most humble of places. His birth was heralded not by the wealthy and powerful but by shepherds coming in from their fields. His childhood, implied from the scarcity of information given to us, must have been rather ordinary. He went through the same stages of life that we all experience. He grew to be a man.

He left the throne of heaven to live an ordinary life. I doubt that he was physically imposing. His looks must have been rather plain. I imagine that he appeared a lot like his neighbor across the street. I imagine his hands bore the calluses of a carpenter. The Gospels speak of times when he was hungry, when he grew weary, we he felt sadness and wept.

He left the throne of heaven to accomplish a mission that was anything but ordinary. He came to live a life that pleased God, to show a way that no man could walk on his own. He came to teach and to inspire, he came to serve and to heal, he came to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice no other could bring.

He left the throne of heaven and gave himself into the hands of evil men. These men took him and nailed him to a cross. He did not resist them. He did not curse his enemies. He did not call 10,000 angels to rescue him from death. He simply bowed his head, lifted his cross, and died on a windswept hillside.

He left the throne of heaven to show us beyond a doubt of God’s great love for mankind. He became one of us to show us the will of God and to provide a way for us to stand before heaven’s throne for eternity.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Our Amazing Bodies

I am not sure who wrote the following article, but it is good. What a wonderful God we have!

It was a familiar scene. The young couple were going over the monthly bills, trying to stretch their money to cover their obligations. There will bills from the drug store, mall stores, gasoline companies, electric and water bills, etc. In an effort to break the tension, trying to be humorous, the husband said, “Isn’t it s good thing that God doesn’t bill us for the air we breath?”

A most serious thought was spoken lightheartedly. What if God decided to bill us for the wonderful body he has given us? The Psalmist said, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14).

What if God billed us for . . .

Our ears? A piano has 88 keys, but our ears have a keyboard of 1,500 keys. They are so finely tunes that you can hear the blood running through your vessels. The outside of your ears can catch up to 73,700 vibrations a second.

Our eyes? They are both microscopes and telescopes. They can gaze into the heavens and see a star millions of miles away, or inspect the smallest insect.

Our feet? Each foot has 26 bones, none of which is wider than your thumb. The foot is so manufactured (arched) with its ligaments, tendons, muscles and joints that a 300 pound man can put all his weight on these tiny bones.

Our heart? Its size is about the size of your fist, but pumps (beats) 4320 times an hour. In a year, your heart beats about 40 million times. A drop of blood can make a round trip in your circulatory system in only 22 seconds.

Yes, what if God sent us a bill for this marvelous body in which we live? Staggering, isn’t it? But God does not send bills. He just loves us and cares for us. Can we do any less that to return his love? We show him our love by obedience to his Word and by faithful stewardship of that which he has entrusted us.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What You Can't Control

I do not know who wrote this poem. It is short, but it says so much!

You can’t control
The length of your life,
But you can control
Its width and depth.

You can’t control
The contour of your face,
But you can control
Its expression.

You can’t control
The weather,
But you can control
The atmosphere of your mind.

Why worry
About things you can’t control,
When you can keep yourself busy
Controlling the things
That depend on you?

Church Rock, south of Moab, Utah, with La Sal Mountains in background.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Equipping Our Children to Make Wise Decisions

I read an interesting article a couple of years ago, and though somewhat dated, it remains relevant. The article: “Adolescent Pregnancy: Current Trends and Issues.” It was authored by Dr. Jonathan Klein, and was published in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In his article, Klein presents some startling statistics. He writes, “Currently, more than 45% of high school females and 48% of high school males have had sexual intercourse. The average age of first intercourse is 17 years for girls and 16 years for boys. However, approximately one fourth of all youth report having had intercourse by 15 years of age.” He continues, “Involuntary sexual activity (rape, assault, foundling, etc.) has been reported by 74% of sexually active girls younger than 14 years and 60% of those younger than 15 years.” And, perhaps, most shocking: “Current surveys indicate that 11% of high school females and 17% of high school males report having had 4 or more sexual partners.”

Klein argues that there a number of “predictors of sexual intercourse during the early adolescent years.” They include “early pubertal development, a history of sexual abuse, poverty, lack of attentive and nurturing parents, cultural and family patterns of early sexual experience, lack of school or career goals, substance abuse, and poor school performance or dropping our of school.”

Klein lists a number of “factors associated with a delay in the initiation of sexual intercourse.” These include “living with both parents in a stable family environment, regular attendance at places of worship, higher family income, parental supervision, setting expectations, and parent/child connectedness.”

Parents, you would do well to consider the information in this article. Let us equip and empower our kids to make wise decisions.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Greatest Mission of the Church

Our window of opportunity is narrow. They are with us for only a short time. Our obligation to them should be at the top of our list of priorities. For, if we allow the opportunity we are given to slip from our hands, another generation of the church will be lost. I am speaking of our youth and our responsibility to teach them and guide them and prepare them for a lifetime of faith and service to God.

Pardon my bluntness, but the evidence of our weak resolve and shallow commitment to the spiritual instruction and development of our youth is stark. There are so many churches in our land, including our own, that are filled with senior adults but are so visibly short of middle-aged and younger generations. I applaud the faith of those in the twilight of their years, but I lament the absence of those between the ages of 20-50. I attribute their absence, in part, to a neglect of our children, a neglect particularly visible in smaller congregations like our own.

We neglect our children when we invest little time or resource in our program of Bible classes. Those who teach our kids need to be constantly affirmed by the whole church, and more of us need to be involved in teaching. Our classrooms need to be comfortable and spacious places where it is easy to teach and to learn. Our curriculum needs to be practical and meaningful and contemporary. We need to make available resources that facilitate visual and experiential instruction, for a child will effectively retain only 10-20% of what they hear, but as much as 90% of what they see and feel and do. We need to understand the different maturity levels of our children (herding 7th graders and 12th graders into the same class environment is usually counterproductive).

We neglect our youth when we fail to appreciate the constant pressures that they are under. Adolescence is the most difficult and formative stage of a person’s life; it is said that 90% of a person’s “value system” is formed before the age of fifteen. So, the church must help parents equip children to make right decisions, to place themselves in proper environments, and to nurture healthy relationships. The church can do this by programming alternatives to the unwholesome activities that are so pervasive in our society. An active and vibrant youth group experience can provide a young person with a safe haven in which faith can grow and a person develop in a nurturing environment.

As I was growing up, the youth center of the Green Lawn Church of Christ was the safest and most encouraging place I knew to go. I would go there after school and hang out with my friends, I would go there on Friday and Saturday nights; it was my home away from home. I did not have to worry about being tempted to do unwholesome things while I was at the youth center. I knew that I was surrounded by people who cared about me and loved me and who shared my faith in God.

We neglect our youth when we do not prepare them for service and leadership in the church. We need to teach our young men to lead in worship. We need to instruct our boys and girls on how to teach a Bible class, on how to serve the needs of others, on how to use their artistic and creative skills to enhance the education programs and aesthetics of the church. We encourage our youth when we show them that they are not alone in this development (our kids need the affirmation of seeing their peers from other congregations engaged in the same activities).

The most important mission of the church is to raise up its own young to be faithful to God. For, if we cannot teach our own, how can we proclaim the Gospel to the world?

Often times we talk a good game, but are we serious about the task?

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's On Your Account Ledger?

Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13.5). Of all the descriptions of love contained within the apostle Paul’s masterful treatise on the subject of love, this concept is the most challenging to me. In a way, Paul is saying that love is blind, and that love has no memory.

We have all been hurt by the words and actions of others. We have all be treated unfairly, and even many of us have been cheated, lied about, or falsely accused. Paul says that our love must extend beyond such ill treatment.

Surely, Paul is exaggerating the issue. Isn’t he simply painting the ideal picture of love and not that which is possible or even likely? Surely, Paul knows that love can only extend so far, and that it must be conditioned upon reciprocal treatment and returned love. No, Paul is most certainly serious. The standard for love he describes is the standard to which our love must be measured.

What Paul describes is the love our Lord showed. I stay amazed at the event described in John 13, where Jesus took the position of a lowly household servant and washed the dirty, stinky, ugly feet of his disciples. In that room, and among the men whom he served, were Peter and Judas, men who would betray and deny him only hours later. Yet, Jesus loved them despite the knowledge of what they would do. And, even more amazing than this, he looked down from the cross upon those who had hung him there, and he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” I am challenged by these words. For about three years, I have been mistreated by a person close to me. The details of the abuse are not important, but I have been repeatedly misjudged by this person and have been accused unfairly, without being given the recourse to show my innocence. My responses have been human. I have been angry. I have been bitter. I have said things that I shouldn’t have. I have struggled to forget the ill treatment and disrespect shown to me. I have kept an account of a wrong suffered.

I must learn how to love as Paul says I must love—blindly and without memory. Please pray for me as I struggle in this. For, it truly is only through the strength that God supplies that this love is made possible.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How Much Time Had Passed?

He returned home, but how much time had passed?

Jesus’ narrative (Luke 15.11-32) gives the reader no firm clue. He simply indicates that in time the young man awoke to his senses and returned to his father.

The he, of course, is the man often called the prodigal son. And, it is an interesting and instructive question to ask: how much time had passed before he returned home? Was it six months? . . . A couple of years? . . . A decade? . . . Most of a lifetime?

His story has been relived countless times in the course of human history. How many have walked in his shoes? How many fathers and mothers have stood at the gate waiting anxiously for their prodigal child to return?

I know many parents who stand today waiting for a wayward child to return from a place of faithless living far removed from God. Time after time, efforts to instruct and direct and correct are rebuffed. The promise of the wise man seems shallow—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when old, he will not depart” (Proverbs 22.6), the wise man wrote.

But, the promise is not founded on immediacy, is it? “And when he is old . . . ,” the wise man explains. Old is certainly an abstract term, but it is significant that he did not write, “and he will never stray.” Does the promise allow (perhaps anticipate) a time of waywardness followed by a return?

My point is simple: parents, there is hope, so don’t give up waiting at the gate. It is possible that the prodigal returned after being away for only six months. It is just as likely that he was gone for years upon years. After all, he did spend away an entire inheritance.

So, to the fathers and mothers waiting anxiously at the gate: be concerned, but do not despair; be concerned, but do not be overly critical of your parenting; be concerned, but do not give up hoping. Be patient, and allow the seed so faithfully planted to take root and grow and transform a life. Remember: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when old, he will not depart.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chocolate 'n Vanilla

Thanks to the crews from Tecumseh, Oklahoma and Oregon City, Oregon who have painted my house this week.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

May Our Shouts Be Reduced to Civility

There seems to be a lot of shouting these days. I am not speaking of the arena of politics, nor am I speaking of the cultural clashes, or the roar of thousands gathered to see a sporting contest. Sadly, I am speaking of conflict within the church.

Throughout our land, churches are best with turmoil and division. Factions of Christians have lined up against one another. You have heard the labels, they sound as if they are names for sports teams or political parties: Liberal, Conservative, Progressive, Legalistic. Voices are raised, tempers flare, feelings are hurt, and brothers are divided.

“You’re violating my conscience,” shouts one. “You are weak in your understanding,” responds another. “You’re seeking to destroy the church,” one levels. “You’re just holding us back with your stubbornness,” chastises another. “It’s my way or no way,” argues yet another.

The fighting seems to make a mockery of Jesus’ words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13.35). The shouting seems to dismiss the prayer of our Lord: “I ask . . . that they may be one” (Jn. 17.20-21).

It is human nature to defend what seems to be right and to promote that which is personally beneficial or comfortable. However, our identity as Christians and as joint heirs of the eternal blessings of God demands that we defer to one another in love. Paul’s words are clear: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in the one body” (Col. 3.12-15).

In this spirit, may each of us defer to one another in love. May our shouts be reduced to civility. May our separate agendas be replaced with the unified agenda of proclaiming God’s eternal love to a lost and dying world. We can get along, we can be one, and we can impact our world with the Gospel of Christ, but we must begin by humbling ourselves.

Classic Calvin

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

He Set His Face

Staying the course is not always easy.

The Gospel writer describes the resoluteness of Jesus as he set out for Jerusalem, despite knowing the tragedy that would occur there. In Luke 9.51, the description is given, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” A rather matter-of-fact statement. A statement that subtly underscores the determination with which Christ set out on the path that would lead to his death.

The statement should remind one of the words Isaiah spoke about the one called the “Lord’s Servant.” This servant is the Messiah, the one God would send as deliverer and redeemer.

The Lord’s Servant speaks of the difficult and trying times he would face, of the opposition that would be pitted against him, and he concludes in Isaiah 50.7, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”

The Lord’s Servant affirms that God will be with him during his time of trial and that he will overcome, with God’s help, the opposition he will face. The Servant is able to declare, “I have set my face like flint,” a statement declaring his resolve to be faithful to the task given him by God.

Jesus, writes Luke, “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He would go to the place of the cross with the same spirit of resolve exhibited by God’s Servant.

Do we share in Jesus’ resolve as we follow in his steps and obey the will of our Father? So many distractions vie for our gaze; it is so difficult, at times, to concentrate on the task at hand . . . faithful service to God.

Let us refocus and become more resolute as we follow the steps of our Savior and Lord. Our God will surely provide us with the strength we need.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Worship In a Van

The plan: worship together on the slopes of a majestic mountain under the bright blue sky. The reality: a memorable two hour service of prayer and praise in a cramped Ford van. The lesson: the church is not made of bricks and mortar, and it is not a place on a map, but it is men and women who have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

The occasion was a camping trip I put together a number of years ago. I had taken about 25 youth and parents to a camping area a few miles south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. We arrived on Friday, with plans to return home on Monday. The highlight, for me, would be worship on Sunday—gathered around a roaring camp fire, with the beauty of nature as the backdrop, sitting on naturally-hewn pews singing, praying, hearing God’s Word, and sharing in the thanksgiving of communion.

Yet, Sunday “dawned” with a thunderstorm the likes of which this boy from the plains of Texas had never seen. There was torrential rain, hailstones, lightning, thunder, wind, but no campfire, no pews of rock and timber, no picturesque setting in which to “have church.”

So, we huddled together, all 25 of us, in a 15-passenger Ford van. We sang, we prayed, we read God’s Word, and we partook of the Lord’s Supper. For two hours, we joined in worship to the God who created all that was about us and all that was in us. At least one important lesson was made clear: the church is not made of bricks and mortar, and it is not a “place” on a map, but it is men and women who have been purchased by the blood of Christ.

How much of our energy and resources is given to bricks and mortar, and to places “on the map”? Much of the attention has become a necessity: the wise steward in us dictates that buildings that “have been built” should be kept in working order. Yet, how easy it is to forget that the church is “people” is that our calling is not to build buildings, but “relationships.”

We must remember, we are in the business of building relationships with God and among men. When buildings and properties and physical concerns occupy the bulk of our energies and resources, then I believe we have compromised our identity as the church of Christ.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chocolate Cake

A slice of chocolate cake. What brings more joy than a slice of chocolate cake?

It really is the simple things in life that bring the most joy. A child's laugh. Freshly baked cookies. A hug. A newly bloomed rose. A smile. A snow-capped mountain peak. "Jesus Loves Me."

What brings more joy than a slice of chocolate cake? Okay, okay . . . you gotta have a dip of vanilla ice cream on top! Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Life's Legacy: She Loved KFC?

Over the years, I have been asked to officiate a lot of funerals.

Many times, these occasions, while sad, can be times of joy and a blessing to the preacher. Death is a natural part of life, it is inevitable, and for many it marks the ending of a time of sickness and physical discomfort and pain and the passing to a life of wholeness . . . a life lived in the eternity promised to those in Christ. Those who are left to grieve, while sad, are comforted in the faith that God blesses his people. (For the minister, blessing can come in his contact with the family, the pastoral care that is given, and in the joy of bringing honor to the one who has passed, through the words that are spoken. An older minister told me long ago that the experience of a funeral can bring you closer to a family than just about anything else.)

There are times, however, when death is altogether sad . . . and final.

A few years ago I directed a funeral that was altogether sad. It was for a woman I did not know. As I prepared my remarks, I was told that she had a brief relationship with the church many years ago, and may have even been baptized at some point, but for 50 years had no obvious life of faith.

When I meet with a family to plan a funeral, I ask for memories of the one who has passed and for special reflection on their character. As I met with this particular family, in preparation for my remarks at the woman's funeral, I was given just one statement about the person (beyond the bare details of the obituary). A son-in-law simply said, "She loved KFC." That was it. That was all the family could tell me about this person . . . their mother, sister, aunt, friend.

She loved KFC. That was the one memory her family had of her. How sad.

Now, perhaps I am being too cold . . . too harsh. Perhaps the family was too steeped in grief to be able to articulate anything more. I truly hope that there was something more, much more, about this woman than that she loved fried chicken. But, sadly, many live their lives focused on the superficial. Despite the potential for a deeper and more meaningful legacy, some devote all their attention and energies on things that will not last . . . things that will go to the grave with them.

I am reminded of Esau. You know, the one who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. Give me some of that "red stuff" he demanded of his brother. The writer of Hebrews warns: "See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears" (Hebrews 12.16-17).

Life in this world is never certain. Make your legacy be something substantially more than "She loved KFC."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Father, Give me a Good Kick!

Father, in the abundance of your blessings, you give me opportunity. Opportunity to serve, to love, to share, to give, opportunity to bless others. But, so much of the time, my fervor to serve, to love, to share, to give, and to bless wanes. I am so preoccupied with my own concerns, needs, activities, and ambitions. With the opportunities you give me, grant to me also a willing heart, motivation, give me a good kick and move me out of my comfort (or my rut) so that I may be about your business, your concerns, to share the blessing of your love with others.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

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, June 29, 2010

Mind Over Matter

You find yourself in a set of circumstances you wish were different: the choices are (A) to be disappointed and bitter, or (B) to grin and bear it. Most seem to choose (A), but (B) is certainly the choice of character.

I played football for Lubbock Christian School from the 7th grade through the 12th grade. Early into that first season, I was pegged as a lineman . . . much to my chagrin. I wanted to be a running back. But, the coaches assigned me to the offensive and defensive lines, and that is where I played six seasons. I had some success as a lineman (in between some awful performances), but all the time I longed to be a running back. I wasn't all that bitter, but I did allow the circumstance of not being in the position I wanted to inhibit the effort I gave the position I was assigned. In other words, I was half-hearted in my play as a lineman, and was a rather mediocre player because of it. To this day, I wonder how good I could have been had I played with more enthusiasm.

How much productivity is lost because we are moping around over some disappointment or perceived slight? How many good experiences are forfeited because we are pouting over something that did not go our way? How much potential goes unrealized because are wishing to be somewhere else or doing something different?

Grin and bear it. Not a faint smile, but a genuine optimism that carries us through all situations and accompanying us through moments good and bad. It is the attitude of Paul when he wrote in Philippians 4.12-13: "I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content--whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all thing through Him who strengthens me."

Let us begin each day with a smile on our face and keep that smile until the day draws to a close. Let us remember that each day is a blessing, filled with opportunity. Let us face each challenge and engage in every task with enthusiasm . . . with the attitude, "I will do my best, give my best, be the best I can be."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Life Is Full of Opportunities

The story is told of a young man who wished to marry a farmer’s beautiful daughter. He went to the farmer to ask for his blessing. The farmer looked him over and said, “Son, go stand out in that field and I’m going to release three bulls, one at a time. If you can catch the tail of any of the three bulls, you can marry my daughter.”

The young man stood in the pasture awaiting the first bull. The barn door opened and out rant the biggest, meanest-looking bull he had ever seen. He decided that one of the next bulls had to be a better choice than this one, so he ran over to the side and let the bull pass through the pasture out the back gate.

The barn door opened again. Unbelievable. He had never seen anything so big and fierce in his life. It stood, pawing the ground, grunting, slinging slobber, eyeing him. Whatever the next bull was like, it had to be a better choice than this one. He ran to the fence and let the bull pass through the pasture, out the back gate.

The door opened a third time. A smile came across his face. This was the weakest, scrawniest little bull he had ever seen. Here was his opportunity! As the bull came running by, he positioned himself just right and jumped at the exact moment. He grabbed . . . but the bull had no tail!

Life if full of opportunities. Some will be easy to take advantage of, some will be difficult. But, once we let them pass (often in hopes of something better), those opportunities may never again be available.

The same thing is also true of opportunities to serve Christ. God often opens doors—opportunities to speak up for him, opportunities to minister to someone who is hurting or in need, opportunities to leave a lasting influence on those around us. If we allow them to pass by (perhaps because we are waiting for something easier to come along), we may miss out on them altogether.

Consider the words of Paul: “Continue praying, keeping alert, and always thinking God. Also, pray for us that God will give us an opportunity to tell people his message” (Col. 4.2-3). “Therefore, as we have opportunity , let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6.10).

Take advantage of the doors God opens for you today!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cliff or Homer?

This week, as I have thought about what to say today about fathers, I've considered the future and wondered how those in centuries from now would evaluate the idea of fatherhood held by people of our generation.

Anthropology is the study of peoples and societies, particularly of the past, and is a discipline that often looks to art, music and literature from the time period in question to get a bearing on the practices and values of the time. In the future, as anthropologists look back to our time, it is quite likely that they will consider the various entertainment mediums prevalent today to gain an understanding of our time . . . analyzing venues such as television, movies, and popular music. If their subjects are fathers and fatherhood, what sort of images will come out of the media of today?

The television shows of our day portray fathers of different sorts. I grew up with the likes of Ben Cartwright, Andy Taylor, Mike Brady and Cliff Huxtable . . . mostly, positive portrayals of fathers . . . but what is the most iconic image of a father in today’s television? Is it Homer Simpson? The dad from That 70's Show? George Lopez? Dan Conner? Hannah Montana’s father? Short of news and sports, I don’t watch too much TV these days, but I could not think of many, if any, positive father-figures in TV shows on today. Can you?

There’s an interesting, but troubling, parallel from 20 years ago. In 1989, the year after I graduated from high school, The Cosby Show was the top rated show on television, but it was nearing its end run. At the same time, another show was introduced to TV, The Simpsons. A startling contrast was offered . . . Cliff Huxtable verses Homer Simpson. The former: hard-working, disciplined, conscientious, an involved and loving father, the epitome of a good and wise dad . . . the later: clueless, foul-mouthed, undisciplined, a lout, and though present in the home, an altogether poor father. I’ve wondered: which TV father has had the greater impact on society’s understanding of fatherhood? Which one will have the longer-lasting legacy?