Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Budding Photogs?

My youngest daughters, Hannah (11) and Grace (9), celebrated birthdays recently.  I gave each a digital camera.  They have been having fun taking photos with their new cameras.  As you can tell from these sample shots they are still trying to figure out things like "focus" and "framing," but I am impressed with their budding artistry.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mack Brown on Conference Realignment

I am an Oklahoma Sooner fan, but I greatly respect Mack Brown of the University of Texas.  His take on the conference realignment talks is a view worth hearing.  The following is from an article posted on espn.com.

Mack Brown:

"What I'm concerned about is the players and their parents," Brown said. "As much as we talk about money, as much as we talk about college football, as much as we talk about realignment, as much as we talk about great games, playoffs and all that stuff, we better go back and make sure that we're taking care of the players and that the players and the high school coaches are always considered in the equation.

"Because if not, we're not going to have a game, and they're the ones that are playing. And, for parents to travel all the way across the country is going to put a bigger burden on them," Brown added. "It's going to be more difficult. And right now with the regional leagues the parents can go see their kids play and that's really important because these kids are working their guts out year-round for us to have a show on Saturday that everyone enjoys.

"College football's as great as it's ever been, but we better keep considering what's in the best interest of the players or at some point they're going to get so frustrated it won't be fun for them."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Acts 8.4 . . . A Calling for Today

It seems that the common strategies for church growth consist of a polished and charismatic preacher, a large and ultra-modern facility, and dozens of active programs, among other flashy qualities. The mega-church model is certainly effective, and it is a good thing that these groups are making large impacts for the sake of Christ. BUT, there is another way to share the Gospel . . . more subtle, and even under the radar, but no less important and necessary.

Vocational ministry has been around a long time, even since the beginning days of the church. In fact, vocational ministry certainly predates the professional variety. I doubt Peter ever took much of a paycheck for his preaching . . . perhaps he benefited from the provision of a meal here and there, and perhaps the use of a "bed" to lay his head. And, Paul, often labored with his hands to make possible his evangelistic work. Certainly, the prospects of a consistent salary, housing allowances, IRAs, health insurance, and the like, were centuries away from becoming reality, and, it may seem now, the norm, and expected. BUT, in the beginning days of Christianity, the Gospel was shared, for the most part, by neighbor to neighbor, from one layman to another.

Christianity has made impressive gains in the past 20 centuries. Millions upon millions of people profess faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. And, professional ministry has surely played a big role in this spread. BUT, how much of the growth is the product of ordinary men and women sharing their faith with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers? Surely, a considerable amount.

The example of Acts 8.4 is often overlooked . . . a quick bridge verse connecting the stoning of Stephen with the remarkable ministry of Philip. The verse reads, "So those who were scattered went on their way proclaiming the message of good news." This description comes following a statement that the apostles had remained behind in Jerusalem. The church continued to grow, despite the persecution. The church continued to grow, because of the testimony of the laity . . . average, ordinary men and women convicted in their faith and devoted to sharing what they had discovered in Jesus. Yes, the professionals hit the paths to the mission fields, as well, and educated preachers would make their mark for the sake of Christ. BUT, the church grew, largely, because of the efforts of countless nameless believers.

I live in the western United States, near the shared border of New Mexico and Arizona. Churches here are, for the most part, small, aging and struggling. The mega-church model exists hundreds and thousands of miles from us; it is a model that does not mesh with reality here. The growth strategies of a highly skilled and polished preacher, an imposing facility, and around-the-clock programming are often qualities that are unrealistic here. So, how is the church to grow? Through simplicity, basically, and because of the labors of ordinary men and women. In other words, the ones sitting in the pews must get up and work, and lead, and follow in the steps of Acts 8.4.

BUT, here's a thought and a modern calling . . . how much good could be done by couples trained in various fields--teaching, medicine, business, etc.--relocating from large and effective churches to small and struggling ones? What I am suggesting is that couples and individuals, mature in their faith, and from communities where the church is strong, relocate to areas in the West (and other parts of the country) where the church is weak. For example, a couple graduating with education degrees from Abilene Christian University might choose to find jobs in a town like Aztec, New Mexico or Holbrook, Arizona or Blanding, Utah for the expressed purpose of becoming active in the local church and being a boost to that congregation . . . taking this course, instead of finding employment in Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio, cities where the church is strong, and where one's addition to a congregation would be largely inconsequential (in terms of that church's effectiveness in ministry and outreach).

I call this a modern calling inspired by the example of Acts 8.4, and I find it an important and necessary strategy for church growth in areas where the church (and the Gospel testimony) does not have the footprint it does in other places.

Join me at my new blog, http://acts84.blogspot.com. I devote this blog to what I am terming the Acts 8.4 Calling. This blog will be a sounding-board and bulletin board with the expressed purpose of encouraging and facilitating vocational missions (and, particularly, of the variety described in this article). The articles I post there will include profiles of communities where the church is alive but in need of help; in other words, an introduction to places where "transplanted" Christians could be a big help. These profiles will include a description of the communities at large, a survey of employment opportunities, contact information (where known), and other vital information. I invite your feedback and contributions.

Help me make this Acts 8.4 Calling a meaningful and productive ministry.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pray for Rain!!!

A photo certainly worth a 1,000 words . . . and some tears!

(Photo of wildfire burning near Bastrop, Texas)

Please pray for rain to come to Texas and drench these awful fires.
Our God is much greater than any wildfire.

Now is the time for a well-placed tropical depression!

Predictions for NFL 2011

Are you ready for some football? I must admit that unlike most seasons, my enthusiasm is lacking for this NFL season. But, come Thursday, I'm sure the excitement will have returned. So, here are my predictions for the upcoming season. Don't run to Vegas with them, 'cause if it's like most seasons . . . these will look fairly ridiculous by season's end.

NFC Playoffs

Philadelphia Eagles

New Orleans Saints

Green Bay Packers

San Francisco 49er's

WC-Dallas Cowboys

WC-Detroit Lions (and, no, I'm not smoking anything!)

AFC Playoffs

New England Patriots

Pittsburgh Steelers

Houston Texans

San Diego Chargers

WC-New York Jets

WC-Indianapolis Colts (unless Peyton misses 4 games)

Super Bowl

Cowboys def. Jets (and, no, I'm still not smoking anything!)

And, yes, I still miss the man in the hat!!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thriving In a Certain Place

Last week I stood in front of the largest and one of the oldest living things on earth. This is little old me standing in front of the General Sherman Tree, growing high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

The General Sherman Tree stands 275 feet high. Its trunk has a circumference of over 100 feet. At its base, the tree has a diameter of 36 feet. It weighs over 2,100 tons, the equivalent of 50 blue whales. If placed in the middle of an interstate highway, it would totally block both lanes of traffic and hang out over the shoulders.

This tree, the king of all Giant Sequoias is estimated to have sprung forth as a sapling 2,500 years ago. Think about that . . . this tree began its long life over a century before Alexander the Great was marched his armies across the steppes of Asia. It was already 400 years old when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It's as old as the oldest sections of the Great Wall. It has weathered the lifetimes of 120+ generations of humans. It has "seen" Halley's Comet come and go 33 times.

The Giant Sequoias grow so large and old because of their great resilience. These trees are basically impervious to disease, rot, and ravages of fire. It's thick skin (the bark is 3 feet thick in places) and wide spread (but shallow) root system make it largely resistant to the stresses that bring lesser trees down.

There's another important key to its growth and longevity. The Giant Sequoias ONLY grow in a certain, specific and limited environment. They can only be found growing on the west facing slopes of the Sierra Nevadas between an elevation of 5,000-7,000 feet above sea level.

And, herein, I find a parallel.

In Matthew 6.25 & 33, Jesus tells us, "Don't worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and ALL these things will be provided for you."

In a way similar to the Giant Sequoias thriving only in a certain place, true prosperity and peace in our lives can only be found in Christ and the good things God gives to his children. So, take care in where you put your roots and from where and in what you draw your sustenance. May we ever grow tall and strong in the care of our God.

(The top photo was taken by Nancy Foster on 8-22-2011 at Sequoia National Park. The bottom photo is borrowed from Wikipedia.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Take It One Day At A Time

Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6.34 HCSB).

Isn't Jesus telling us to live one day at a time?

But, do we not often burden ourselves with the decisions of yesterday?

The power of regret is one of the most intimidating opponents we face in life. Second-guessing ourselves. Playing the game of "What if?" Wishing we had taken the other fork in the road. Looking at the past through rose-colored glasses while staring at today through the lenses of disappointment and despair.

I occasionally watch the TV show "Hoarders" on the A&E Network. I am struck by the stories told by and about the people featured on the show. They are people whose homes (and lives) have become so cluttered that they can't function adeptly in the present. They are people with houses filled so highly and tightly that movement from room to room is greatly impaired if not difficult--piled with collectibles, mementos, and even valuables, but also the discarded items of others and by junk and filth that seriously threatens the health of the residents . . . clutter that often accumulates because of an effort by the hoarder to either recapture the past or cope with some regrettable circumstances of the past. There is a dwelling on the past that makes living in the present very difficult.

So too, there can be a hoarding of the past, where regrets, failures, disappointments, and haunting memories cloud our today, rob us of present joy, and make looking toward the future a difficult endeavor.

Yet, Jesus tells us to not worry about tomorrow, for each day has its own trouble; take it one day at a time.

But, do we not often become disillusioned by the stresses of today?

Too often, it seems, our lives are so busy and complicated that it is too much for us to simply stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the moment, and to find some peace in today.

Of course, it's usually because we have over extended ourselves. We have put too much on our plates. In the desperation of getting ahead and of living comfortable lifestyles we do too much and allow ourselves no time to breathe. Our daily lives become so cluttered with appointments and obligations that we can't sop and simply live.

I am reminded of the song "Cat's in the Cradle," by Harry Chapin.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw?” I said, “Not today
I got a lot to do.” He said, “That’s ok
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know, I’m gonna be like him”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home son?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then dad
You know we’ll have a good time then

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you son if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin’ home dad?
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son
You know we’ll have a good time then

And the clutter in our daily lives often makes it hard to see the next moment. The road ahead is hidden from view. In our desperation to get ahead we often don't realize that the grass on the other side, the grass in the pasture we work so hard to get to, is not always greener than that which is already at out feet. Or, in the anxieties we feel over today's troubles, we don't realize that just around the bend in the road the path evens out. Just a little farther, and life will become easier.

Yet, Jesus tells us to not worry about tomorrow, for each day has its own trouble; take it one day at a time.

But, do we not often allow the fears about tomorrow to storm into today?

We often paralyze ourselves about thoughts of what MIGHT happen and what MIGHT be. Anticipation. Uncertainty. The dilemma of "I don't know" often opens a quagmire in our lives.

A humorist once jested, "Lloyd's of London has gotten rich by betting that people will worry about what will never happen."

How many plans have been scrapped because of a fear of costs? How many dreams have been forgotten because of a fear of failure? How many steps haven't been taken because of fears of unseen traps? How many love affairs haven't been realized because of an apprehension to pop the question?

Yet, Jesus tells us to not worry about tomorrow, for each day has its own trouble; take it one day at a time.