Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Sounds of the Season Are Seasoned with Soundness

Quickly now, if you added all the gifts in the little Christmas Carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," how many gifts would you receive? You said 364 which is correct. With the 12 days of Christmas beginning the day after Christmas and extending to Epiphany Sunday (on or near to Jan. 6) in merry ole England you would have a gift each day until next Christmas. Of course, you'd have to sell the golden rings to feed all those Lords a'leaping and maids a'milking. Bummer.

Consider for a few moments the absolute treasure chest which is the church's in her ever expanding library of of Christmas music. Whether ancient or modern, contemporary or traditional, in her hymns, anthems, and songs you find sound theology and captivating beauty in both lyric and melody. The authors and writers have left us emotionally stirred, intellectually stimulated, and abundantly grateful as they help us explore and expound the Eternal. The words and music of Christmas bring to expression every wonder, hope, sorrow, inquisition, resolve, and fulfilment of the heart of man while attempting to express the heart of God revealed in the Babe in a Manger. These expressions range from the haunting to the lilting; from the solemn to the triumphant; from the contemplative to the joyous. A few examples are needed......

In the music of Veni Emmanuel and the words of 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel' we hear, and feel the longing and the haunting hope of men of ages past and present. It is a plaintive prayer for redemption as it both describes the need and prescribes the healing balm. Ransom is called for in verse one, disbursement of gloom in verse two as well as death is requested to be sent away. In our earthly chaos, heavenly order is needed in verse three and unity and peace prayed for in four. In all cases the refrain lifts a bit to rejoice as if it were too much to even hope for yet it's true as the needs are met when "God with us," Emmanuel comes.

Can you not find yourself engaging in deep contemplation with Mary in the stable and asking questions as she must have asked when you hear or sing "What Child is This?" The Lord of the Universe, maker of heaven and earth who with a word spoke the world into existence, now wraps Himself in humanity's flesh and risks His healing of the rebellion of sinful man in the care and love of a teenager. Why does He lie in such a common, lowly place? He does it to plead the for the hearts of sinners. Why? Why? Why? With each question comes a deeper answer and a deeper question 'til all contemplation takes you to the heart of God's love knowing you will never plumb those depths but will grow in awe and wonder in the endeavor.

And rightly so, many of the songs of Christmas are joyous and triumphant. How could they not be full of 'Joy to the World...(why?) the Lord has Come!' The King is here to be received! What does one do with this good news of great joy? O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, come and behold Him born (verb, already happened) King of the Angels. What do we see when we come? We see "Christ, by heav'n adored Christ the everlasting Lord! Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the Incarnate Deity! So first we Adore Him in worship and then we Go Tell It On the Mountain that Jesus Christ is born!

And still, at the end of nearly every Christmas eve service one carol stands out. It is solemn, yet not frightening. It helps one contemplate the mystery of Christ's birth. Most mysteries carry in their unknown nature a distance lest the unknown turn out to be something you wish you didn't know. In this simple melody,  the mystery of the Incarnation and these words draw you in to the beauty, joy, and triumph  of Bethlehem much like a warm fire draws you to its glow. This song is, of course, Silent Night. Written originally in Austria by Fr. Joseph Mohr in about 1816 or 18. The music was added by his school-teacher friend, Franz Gruber,  for the Christmas service at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Austria. Legends grew around the song about a damaged organ and a children's choir. No objective, historical proof exists of these motivations but the song was written for and performed at first by guitar with Mohr and Gruber singing six verses of "Stille Nachet! Heilige Nacht!" at the midnight mass in 1818.

The song traveled and the popularity of it grew despite its simple music and words or maybe because of its simplicity. Ironically, Gruber's name was not associated with the song and the music was thought to be that of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven, at least by some. By the time the song had truly become famous in the 1860's, Fr Mohr had died. Gruber wrote to music conservatories in Berlin explaining that he had written the music but no one believed him. Finally, an 1820 manuscript of Fr. Mohr's was found and in the upper right hand corner was this note: 'Melodie von Fr. Xav. Gruber.' Finally, Gruber got the credit, we receive the blessing and God gets the glory.

The Church sings because we have a song. It is the song of the ages placed in our hearts because the Singer of creation, grace, redemption, forgiveness, and love has taken up residence there. O Come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.

Keep Singing, use music if you can,

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hymns or Carols, What's the Difference?

Do you know the difference between a hymn and a carol?  According to Phillip Brunelle, founder and director of VocalEssence in Minneapolis they are not exactly the same. The word 'carol' is derived from the Italian 'carolare' meaning to sing, to dance and thence 'carola' meaning a ring dance. The Italians also broadened  the French word 'querole' or 'carole' to describe tunes used to accompany celebration dances, whether religious or not, mostly not. Carols were originally thought of as circle dance that was accompanied by singing. A hymn had more theological implications originally and was not made for dancing. Later Augustine, the early church theologian, took it even farther using very strict guidelines of theological truth and musical solemnity for a song to reach 'hymn' status.

So are what we sing at this time of the year Christmas songs, hymns, or carols? I guess that depends on who you ask and how strict their interpretations are. One thing we know is that the Christmas carols have stuck around now for 600 plus years. The most enduring ones coming out of European traditions, mostly Latin, English, and German. Again, according to Brunelle, their endurance is attributed to "step wise" melodies which means they go up and down the scale--think "Joy to the World" and "The First Noel." One popular theory is that we sing these songs, hymns and carols every year because of their nostalgia and taking us back to when.....  There is much about the art and science of music I have no clue about but I have a theory, slightly different from Dr. Brunelle's as to why we sing these songs, hymns, and carols:  we can't help it.

We can't help ourselves because God made us that way. Music is universal. In every culture there is something akin to singing, praising, and expressing joy and sorrow through music.  The ancient hymnbook of the Hebrews contains many verses about the messiah. When Mary was told of her conception by the angel and had visited Elizabeth she wrote a song in Luke 1:46ff. When Zechariah recovered his voice after the birth of John the Baptist he broke out in song (see Luke1:67ff) and most of it was about the messiah and not his kid. When shepherds were told about the new born king a choir of angels punctuates the good news toward men with heavenly tunes.

We can't help but sing. But it has become one of the deceiver's great schemes to still our songs, silence our tongues and thus steal our joy. But the church rises up every Sunday and especially at Christmas and shakes our hymnals and overhead screens in the face of the adversary to remind him that he cannot take our joy any more than he could keep Jesus in the grave. God has made us in such a way that the overwhelming truth of His Incarnation, the mercy shown, the salvation given, the righteousness imparted, and heaven opened will be sung.

The way I see it, Christians themselves actually become the hymns, the songs, and the carols of the Incarnation by the way we display this grace God has given. Has your life caused others to want to join the choir and sing the songs of Life?

Keep Singing, use your voice if necessary.


PS: The rest of the month we'll look at a few Christmas carols and hymns and discover the back story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Advent Turkey

"Papaw, is it wrong to not like Thanksgiving?'' Reggie asked his grandfather.
"Well, I think that depends, Reggie, on why you don't like it or if its just certain parts you don't like. Tell me what's on your mind."
"I guess its just parts of it but some of the parts kinda take over the whole day."
"Like what, Reggie?"
"Like lunch, Papaw. We have to get up early to come over here to your house. Breakfast is usually just a piece of toast or cereal and Mom is yelling at us to hurry up or we'll be late. Then we get here and we don't actually have lunch 'til 2:30 and I'm starving and I don't like turkey."
"Well, that is a problem. I think I can fix a part of it. Why don't you and I split a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to tide us over 'til our 2:30 lunch. We'll just make that part of our tradition."
"That'll be great but it doesn't change all that other funny tasting stuff Mom and Gran-up expect me to eat. We eat that red gloop out of a can twice a year. I just don't like it."
"Red gloop?"
"Yeah, its some kind of berry stuff.''
"Oh, you mean cranberry sauce. I think Thanksgiving will survive without your eating the red gloop."
"And I kind  of like that smashed cornbread but that egg gravy is gross."
"I think you mean dressing and giblet gravy. I can take care of that one, too. That egg gravy is a bit much to look at. Anything else?"
"Naw, Papaw, if you can help with those things I'll survive Thanksgiving."
"Well, you need to do more than survive it, Reggie. I mean this is only your ninth Thanksgiving, I've been at this for  sixty-seven years and my ninth one was the worst one. I didn't think I'd survive that one but here I am and Thanksgiving has become about my favorite holiday despite egg gravy."
"You like it better than Christmas?!?"
"Why was your ninth one so bad?"
"I got confused about Thanksgiving and Advent-- know where we talk about getting ready for Jesus' birth and waiting on Christmas-- we light the Advent candles every year at church... all those things...
"Yeah, our family got to light the pink candle last year. It was kinda cool."
"I remember... well, anyway, when I was nine, the first Sunday of Advent happened to be the same weekend of Thanksgiving. I had a part in my elementary school's Thanksgiving play the Wednesday before. We dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians and animals and even food remembering the first Thanksgiving in our land. That all went fine, I was a talking Turkey talking about how thankful people were going to be to have a great feast. But disaster struck that Sunday. I was suppose to talk about the Advent candle of Hope, the first one. I had my two lines memorized and when it came time to talk and when I looked out at all those church people, I just froze. I couldn't remember a word. Finally, my mom gave me a hint and I remembered! Only problem was I remembered my line from school the Wednesday before and told the whole church that "at this special time of year, we all enjoy the Advent Turkey and all the blessings we have been given."
"You said Advent Turkey? Ha, ha, hee, hee ...what did  you do, Papaw?"
"Oh, the whole church started laughing. I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to do except cry. My big brother laughed at me all month. He still makes fun of me for that. But I'll never forget what the preacher did. He asked my family to do the Hope candle again at Advent the next year. I heard a few laughs, expecially from your great uncle Ned, but I got through it just great. Later at the kid's Christmas party the preacher called me over and told me he had an extra ornament to hang on the tree and asked if I would do it. I said sure and then he showed it to me. It was a turkey ornament. Before I could laugh or cry he stopped me and said, 'I know what you're thinking but I thought about what happened last year and I'm not making fun of you. It just that Thanksgiving with the turkey and dressing and pies makes more sense if we remember the things other than food that we should be thankful for. I thought of you and how you  put Christmas and Thanksgiving together accidently last year. So from now on, I'm going to hang this Turkey ornament on the tree to remind myself that the first thing I should do when I think of Jesus' birth is to be thankful. We don't have a thankful candle on the Advent wreath but now I've got an Advent Turkey to help keep me Thankful.

"Papaw, you made that up. I know you...but it is Advent Turkey...ha,ha,ha
"Reggie, we're getting ready to decorate the tree after the Cowboys game. But I want you to go look in that really old box of Christmas ornaments beside the tree. Unwrap the one in the brown tissue paper and tell me what you find........
"Papaw! It's true, its true!.....

Well, its Advent time again, Turkeys, so be thankful........

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sitting Room Only--- John 5:1-16

In just a glance you could probably see it but by really looking, gazing deeply into the faces in those crowds,  like Jesus did in Matthew 9:36, you begin to really notice it. Beyond the poverty, disability, and their unsophisticated ways and you see humanity, you see hurt, you see hope, and you see people, like all of us, who need Jesus.

The porch at Bethesda in John 5 was a place like that-- people hurting, disabled, fearful, and yet hopeful that an Angel of the Lord might bring healing to the nearby waters. "If I can get there first," was their only hope, or so it seemed.

We don't look for angels to stir the waters in our lives much anymore, maybe we should. We look for stirrings in our lives in different places now. We look to be stirred by work, reality TV, sporting events, by lotteries, fishing, golf, vacations, whatever.... But like the lame, blind and paralyzed on Bethesda's porch you have to get there first, just ask Ranger fans or Alabama fans. You can get five numbers right but it takes six to win the jackpot. You can make a million bucks for your firm this year and the boss has forgotten by next year. So for people on Bethesda's porch or in Wal Mart or in front of the TV, they are waiting, looking, hoping for a stirring in their hearts, their lives. But the hope is fleeting because the world tells us you have to have great timing or great luck and come in first and first doesn't last long. There is always another game, another sale, another deal, another season, another show and we have to line up again and again, maybe even for 38 years, and hope for first.

But angels don't show up regularly and its hard for crippled humans, whether of body or soul, to move quickly to stirred waters. So for those who rarely or never come in first, Jesus shows up at last, and He's coming to a well near you, probably the one in your heart.

And Jesus shows up asking questions: 'do you want to get well?' The cripple at Bethesda's porch answers that the only way he knows isn't working. Jesus would ask us the same thing--do you really want to get well? Yes, but what I've learned to do, tried to do, and joined others in doing isn't working. We tried making more stuff and became addicted materialists. We tried more work and became workaholics with big mortgages, two marriages and distant kids. We tried self-reliance and became so independent that we lost that part of humanity called community. We tried more leisure and got lazy. We tried to live for ourselves and found ourselves crippled with addictions, syndromes, disorders, greed, empty thrills, inequalities and injustices.

So whaddaudo?

Listen. Listen to what Jesus tells all those faces in the crowd: "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "Come, follow me." "Don't be afraid, just believe." "Everything is possible for him who believes. "Woman your faith is great, your request is granted." "Your faith has saved you, go in peace."

It is true what Dr. Charles  Poole once observed, the porch is never empty. It is SRO. But when Jesus shows up hope and healing, peace and salvation do, too. And be certain of this, Bethesda's porch still exists. You see it in line at Wal Mart, lining the halls of nursing homes, standing in line for a bowl of porridge in a refugee camp, filling stadiums, sitting in hospitals and clinics, and waiting for God knows what in front of countless electronic screens. All these faces in all these crowds have this in common: they, we all need Jesus.

But how does Jesus get to all those porches? Don't worry, He's there. His Spirit is there, His church is there. In fact, maybe the world and the church would be better off if we quit worrying so much about getting the crowds to church and took Jesus to Bethesda's porches. Then all those faces in all those crowds might see something of Jesus in our faces, and we certainly would see His in theirs.

"And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God."
                                                                                                        Jean Val Jean--Les Mes


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Open Back Door II

Last time up to blog the Rangers had a chance, the Cowboys were a .500 team, and Kim K was still married. Things change. But for the church, often times the changes bring opportunities that we never could have imagined. I am calling these back door opportunities when the front doors of accepted morality, dialogue, political influence, church status, and the given-ness of the relevancy of Christ and His church are closing in our culture. Rejoice! The church has great opportunities for the true power of the gospel and authentic faith in the True Savior to shine like stars in our darkening skies (Philippians 2:15). Back door friends are often the closest anyway.

I had mentioned last time opportunities in the Arts, in the area of civility and manners, and  by genuine relationships in an electronically connected world but one in which people are more disconnected than ever.
Here are a few more back door opportunities........

4. Marriage-- many couples from young to old are now co-habitating. Gay marriage in many opinion polls is accepted by over half the populace in our culture. In light of the mindsets that have called into question the validity of marriage, in practice if not in sentiment, the church has a great opportunity to show the beauty, strength, stability, and benefits of marriage lived out in commitment to God and to one another. Kim Kardashian's 72 day marriage shows what's wrong. Marriage was based on feelings of love and the desire for the fairy tale romance. Christian marriage is based on commitment to God, His truths, and a commitment made by husband and wife to explore life together. In this marriage you are free to discover more about God, yourself, and your spouse. This "till death do us part" commitment frees, stabilizes, secures, and develops its lovers.  Grace abounds, faith grows, and in this commitment is found the soil for true, growing and abiding love. It takes more that 72 days to explore and develop this kind of love. The church has a great opportunity to show it in the lives of Christ's followers. And it doesn't cost $10 million but is worth far more.

5. Consider the back door of faith. Our culture is continually placing its faith, demonstrating its faith in politics, politicians, government programs, Wall street,  new business models, fame, fortune, and consumption of food, drink, entertainment, sports and other lesser gods to be disappointed, disillusioned, and increasingly dysfunctional. How about the church comes along and demonstrates solid, intelligent, compassionate faith in Christ? A faith is only as good as its object. The object of the church's faith is Jesus Christ. It may not always be as flashy, as profitable, or produce cuddly feelings but its Object, Jesus, brings to those who trust Him what they truly has been searching for--joy, hope, peace and love lived out in meaningful,  purposeful,  and what He called abundant living. In the light of this world's instability, sentimentalism, and emotional radicalism, this door is always open.

6. The Values door--Each of the values I list probably has three more to go with them and these values aren't always accepted in our society at all levels but the church can be the guardian and demonstrator of: courage even in the face of ridicule, persecution, misunderstanding, bullying, peer pressure and marginalization. Joy--so many people seek happiness and miss it because it is circumstantial. Joy in the midst of pain or suffering or even in the routines of daily living, points to a more noble calling. The deep, seated peace of knowing that God is in control and will take care of you for eternity brings rest and peace. It shows up as joy for it emanates from within. Peace, in the face of fear, fidelity to truth in a world of compromise, honesty when its easier to cut corners, self-giving, self-sacrifice, commitment to all things excellent, noble, trustworthy and the whole Philippians 4:8-9 thing will stand in sharp contrast with lesser offerings from lesser motivations.

7. The door of risky compassion. This compassion, or love in action, is propped open by sacrifice, generosity, and abandonment of control of the outcome. The church may start a ministry and it may fail. The church may start another church and it may not grow to self-sufficiency. So be it. The church risks because the church loves. Hope and love always have an element of risk. Instead of gambling or riding roller coasters, try starting a church for people who don't like church, or addicts, or prostitutes. Talk about thrilling! The church that does this will lose money from time to time, but never will they lose their investment.

8. A gentle knock on the back door of Biblical literacy will be answered by some. The church has a story to tell. It is the gospel story. We need to learn it well and share it often because so many on our world have no idea what truths are contained in the Bible that can bring them to Life. Our culture at one time knew about Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Daniel and the lion's den, being poor like Job and what it meant to be in the fiery furnace. I'd be willing to bet the church can find a way to get the truths from those stories out there again.

9. Justice, Justice. Justice! Learn it, live it by word, deed, calendar, and wallet, and demonstrate it.

10. There is a back door into people's lives opened by Christians living lives of assurance and persuasion. With assurance of the future and being fully persuaded that God is present in each encounter, meeting, person, transaction, and adventure, in order to share His life with His children, our relationships and work are thus transformed into venues of sharing His grace and Sovereignty with all.

( Two more and I'll quit. This is turning into a book.)
11.There is a Power door. The church can demonstrate what Tullian Tchivdjian (Billy Graham's grandson) calls non-power. This is surrender to God's Sovereignty and His control. It is what Robert Capon called left-handed power (think Jesus, creator of the universe, dying on a cross)--not a power of physical, military or financial might, but one which allows truth to seep in slowly and deeply into the soul where it can change a rebellious sinner into a lover and follower of God.

12. A door called desire. I believe many would follow a church or a Christian who's desire was truly to be with Jesus and to abandon every thing in body, soul, mind, and spirit that either hampered one's relationship with Him.

Add to this list, subtract from it but by all means go to the back doors in the world and knock. Knock and the doors will be opened.

Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door, and the world's too for that matter.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Open Back Door

Family and people who knew us never came to the front door of the farm house in which I grew up. One would have to park on the road or well onto the lawn ( I use that term loosely) to make their way to the front door. Everyone who was any one to our family would follow the drive 'round to the back of the house and knock on the back door, or in some cases just come on in. I don't recall ever locking the back door until I was about fourteen or fifteen and then you could  just raised the window next to the door and reach in to unlock it. I think the lock was used more to hold the door shut against the wind as much as anything.

I realize that front doors are considered more formal, proper, and mannerly but I have noticed that the front door to the world's heart and mind is being kept shut against the wind of the Spirit and His church, especially in the Western world. In a few cases I understand. The church has at times seemed in some eyes as arrogant, pushy, presumptive, or irrelevant. Although I believe those perceptions in many cases to be wrongly assigned the truth of the matter is that the front door to people's hearts and mind is shut tighter than ever. Bad press, competition from other religions and worldviews, poor exhibition and extremes from some churches, monastic mindsets without the monastery, lack of loving compassion by too many Christians,  and human spiritual devolvement have led to a closing of the minds and hearts of many.

The only proper response from the church is this: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Why rejoice? To paraphrase I Corinthians 16:9, "a great back door of opportunity has opened for us and one of the ways we know it is the opposition by the front door."  (italics mine, no one else would claim it anyway.)  So what do these back door opportunities look like in the world around us. I will spend a blog or two listing some of these entrances for the gospel to knock and be asked in to people's lives. These may morph into a sermon series next year or a book. LOL!LOL! Okay, okay, I might get a sermon of two out of these thoughts but I am serious in that the church has a great opportunity to share the gospel in word and deed in these areas. No ranking by the numbers by the way, it just fell out of my head that way.

Back Door Number 1: The Arts door. This is on my mind because of the beauty and depth that the string quintet added to our service Sunday but it has been in my heart for years. The church should support, revive, and maintain performing, visual, and literary art. The Arts  help display and express like none other the beauty, intricacies, rhythm, precision, passion, harmony, imagination, and creativity of God. These can be used mightily by the Spirit to touch the human soul. The Arts also provide a wonderful outreach to many who, because of their life's circumstances, can't get to the "arts district." The church can bring these to people through their support of the arts in many ways, starting with worship. A beautiful door it is.

Back Door Number 2: Human Connectedness. Yes, we are connected like never before and the hardware and software in coming years will make obsolete our iPhone and pads. Yet, for all our connectivity, isolation and loneliness has never been higher. Suicide, depression, anxiety disorders all show the truth of this isolation. The church can position itself to provide true connections between people. The church must think more about people than programs. Of all peoples, we should know about true connections and relationships. One on one, one on two, two on five we must relate as humans to one another. Have we forgotten how? Probably. Put the cell phone down, log off the computer, make the tea, and invite a human to sit down and talk with you. It will scare the daylights out of both of you. Good. Start easy with another Christian then move out. Adopt a block, attend a small\cluster group, make friends with convenience store clerk. No agenda, just be a friend, then watch what Jesus does. (Hint: what He does will probably be more to you than the other person)

Back Door Number Three: Civil Engineers. Through our youth and children's ministries the church can launch an army of  "civil" engineers to permeate society with gracious speech and conduct over the next generations.  We bemoan the lack of civility in our society, the church has the people and resources to address the issue. But we would do this because of a different motivation. We believe that human beings were made in the image of God and have intrinsic value. We believe that Christ died for all and all should be loved as He loved them. So we teach our parents in church to teach the children to speak and conduct themselves toward others as Christ would. Here is the church functioning as salt and light showing grace to all. Will we make society more respective and kind? I don't know but whatever society is doing isn't working. Also, can't we do some things because it is right and is one of the best ways to show respect to other human beings made in God's image? We may never hear a thank-you but our society can surely hear it from us, can't it? There are probably a hundred opportunities a day to practice civility and manners as we engage our society so let us teach and model these manners in Christ name and see if this door isn't held open to the church for other ministries as well.

I've got a few more doors for next week.

Come on in,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

State Fair Faith

Our State Fair is a Great State Fair, Don't Miss it, Don't even be late..."

Oops. For the eighteenth year in a row I'm going to miss our great state fair. I didn't intend to go this long without going, it even seems downright un-Texan to miss it so much. But you know how it goes, the kids get big enough to go on their own, we lived between three and seven hours drive from Dallas most of those eighteen years, work got in the way too... we just haven't made it.

I rather enjoyed the Fair when I went. The exhibits, the "free" stuff, the new cars, the animals, the shows, and of course, the midway. You just can't beat all that fried food and sweets. Well, wait a minute. If a restaurant charged the same amount as those booths at the fair do and it tasted like most Fair food tastes we'd either send it back or never go to that restaurant again. An expensive lesson in developing a discriminating palate no doubt.

 In my elementary school days when our school drove everybody to Dallas for the Fair, I still hadn't learned the proper techniques and timing for eating junk and riding rides. It takes a couple of years but you figure it out.  An rather inexpensive lesson in human physiology really.
I wish everyone could experience the Fair, even getting snookered by a carny trying to win at an impossible game. I think I lost fifteen bucks which was lot then. Cheap lesson , in economics, really.

I remember being really fascinated by the "shows" at the fair featuring bearded women, strong men, Bonnie and Clyde's death car, the human slinky, Siamese twins, and the world's fattest twins. Where else could fifty cents get you in to see so much refined culture? Those shows grew tiring after a few years even though the boss might change the name or paint a different poster to raise interest.  Another fairly inexpensive lesson in advertising techniques and the brokenness of humanity. Most of the sideshows were of broken people being taken advantage of by broken people to be gawked at by broken kids with now empty wallets. Great lessons at the Fair, all in one place and at a fair price.

If you think about it, God could have made a killing at the Fair with the characters from Bible. You talk about a great state fair just imagine behind those curtains is Moses parting a huge tank of water and walking himself and a few people from the audience through it. Samson could have put all the other Fair strongmen out of business. Elijah could have taken any heavy object from the crowd and thrown it in a tank of water and made it float like he did the lost ax head. Paul could let rattlesnakes and cottonmouths bite him. Daniel would be a hit with his lion taming act. If Jesus shows up, well forget about it...walking on water, healings, raising the dead. Wow, what a show!

That's where we need to be careful, we enjoy the show and forget the lesson. If you consider the length of time that the Old Testament covers, the miracles, the "shows" are spread out pretty far. Abraham lived about 2200 BC as an educated guess. Moses, some believe started writing down the things that happened about 1450 BC from the oral traditions passed on to him and the things that God revealed to him. The point is that more than likely, you personally, if you lived in those times would never see the great things God did in history. He rescued, He saved Israel. He miraculously preserved His people moving salvation history toward the day of Jesus coming. You would hear about them and a few of you could read about them. The rest of the years and for the vast majority of the generations that lived in Old and New Testament times, you lived by faith.

God still does miracles but that's not the whole show, the lesson. The greatest miracle that still remains is that God through Christ redeems sinful men and calls them to walk with Him daily in a relationship of love and service. It is often not fancy, just put your head down and take one step after the other after the other after the other...We need to be careful to not just go down the midway of life looking for the next big show  that excites us spiritually but to walk in faithful obedience with the One who helps us exhibit His Presence, His Life, His Love to all who have been broken in a sinful world.

That's a pretty Fair deal.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Ironman Is Missing

He flew in from New Mexico with sister, mom and dad safely in tow. Dressed in maroon and gold, complete with mask, he soared around the living room, dining room, kitchen and halls. Our hearts soared with him. He was busy saving the world. But he was never too busy to stop, remove his mask, remind us of who he really was, just in case we forgot. He'd kiss his sister and fly off again in real adventures while the rest of us in the world toiled in its imaginary exsistence of imaginary importance.

When Ironman wasn't in suit and flying high, a little ironman went with him in his pocket. He went to the store, he went to play golf, he went to the zoo, he shot little darts at bad guys. When Ironman went to sleep, little ironman kept watch over the family while perched on the table, the counter, or the dresser or wherever he was left.

In the light speed at which such times move, Ironman went missing. Held prisoner by some evil power in some nook, cranny, or crease that no amount of searching could discover, he was left. Invisible for days because of the dark powers that held under the couch, he overcame the evil and appeared again to searching eyes and grasping hands.

But Ironman is missing.

He flew back to New Mexico with sister, mom and dad, and our hearts in tow. So little Ironman sits on the counter-- a pitiful sight-- awaiting reconciliation. Our hearts sit with him awaiting reunion. Our wait is lonely because

Ironman is Missing......................


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Frank and Louie and the Hope of Unbelief

The day after I preach a sermon, I always find the perfect story, illustration, or clarifying point to go with it. It seems to be a little joke between me and God. It could be that I always quit reading one article, magazine,  or commentary too soon. It may be God's way of humbling me and keeping me a little off balance. ("Heavenly Father, I really don't need any help staying off balance. I do fine with that on my own.") Anyway, it has been a good week in that I didn't find the better story until three days after the sermon. The better story to parallel the sermon on Mark 9: 14-29 is about Frank and Louie, a cat. Yes, this cat has two names and the accompanying picture explains why. Frank and Louie has two faces. I wonder if he gets 18 lives?
Frank (on the left) and Louie lives  (singular verb) in Massachusetts and recently set a record for the oldest living Janus cat. The name comes from the Roman mythological fellow with two faces. One cat with two faces, can that really be?  But it is true and has been for Frank and Louie for twelve years. Believe me, I can relate and I believe that the father from Mark 9: 9-29 can also. When asked if he believed that Jesus could heal his demon possessed\ epileptic son his reply was classic: "I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" Like most of us some of the time and some of us all the time, the father believed but his trust wasn't complete, fully orbbed, wholly mature. He knew his son was in a bad way and found someone he thought could help and expressed what we all feel so well. He had hope, he had trust but it was mixed with some fear and doubt. He had what I call the hope of unbelief. I know that hope and unbelief are not suppose to go together. They are oxymororic. In the church we teach and preach that belief helps us to hope; belief ties us to hope whereas unbelief shrouds hope, chokes hope and finally kills it. We leave little room for doubt. In the church we are certain, sure, confident, strong and determined. Except...except when we're not. We're not sure the kids will turn out ok; we're not sure the disease will be cured; we 're not sure the marriage will make it; we not sure the money will hold out; we're not sure God heard our cries. I believe, Help Thou my unbelief. The hope of unbelief is this: that doubt can change: unbelief can give way to belief; doubt can be usurped by faith, fear can be dominated, cast out by love.Thank-you nameless-face-in-the-crowd father of an epileptic child desperately seeking help. We hear you. We feel you. In so many ways, we are you. Believing but not always sure, trusting but seeing doubt clouds on our horizons, knowing God can but also knowing that God doesn't always...Help thou my unbelief. Dr. Bill Self once wrote, "Doubt is like the front porch. All of us go through it before we get inside the house of faith."  Now we see as through a glass darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. In the passing of time and the growth in Jesus, the face of doubt fades little by little till it sees no more.  So Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so it is well with my soul. Don't worry about being two faced like Frank and Louie. Bring both faces to Jesus with all your hopes and all your doubts and surrender them to his care. He knows how to sort them out.

Till We Have Faces, (sorry Mr. Lewis)Cos                                                                                                                                                                              

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Swiss Cheese and the Christians

I just finished lunch. I made a good sandwich. I think it could have been better. I had provolone cheese which was good but I think Swiss would have added a bit more twang to the sandwich. Good but could have been better.

Maybe its just the crowd I'm around but it appears to me that every one's life has some aspect of it amiss or missing or that could be better. Somethings wrong, out-of-balance, broken, askew, or as my west Texas friend used to say "whomperjawed." Just listen to folks for five or ten minutes and you will hear it. It usually doesn't come across as direct complaint, more of an observation or a lament. If a guy has four kids you can almost bet that one or two of them has a frustrating or hurtful problem. If a person has a high paying job you will hear it is also highly stressful or so time consuming that she can't enjoy the fruit of her labors. A lady may have a great business but senses distance in her marriage. A guy may have a great marriage but finds that the cash flow in his start-up taco truck is depressing.  A pitcher may have a great fastball but still have trouble with his change-up (Mr. Ogando?). A pastor may be a great administrator (I've heard they exist) but have trouble getting along with people. You name the person, the career, and the circumstances and sooner of later you will see that the very best ones still have holes in their lives.

In a fallen world it is nearly impossible to get it all together, keep it all together, or remember where you put it if ever you do. Why is that? One reason is that we are a broken people in a broken world. Things don't always work and rarely even look perfect. Yet, in the hands of the right person, even broken pieces are made into a beautiful mosaic. In the skilled hands of some folks, leftover and unmatched material make keepsake quilts. This happens in the craft room and in life.

Another possibility is that the lack of being able to get everything together for very long keeps us mindful of our need for Jesus. Be honest---do you pray as fervently now as you did about finances when you were twenty-eight, had a sick baby, the car insurance was due, and the washing machine was broken? Things broken can keep us humble and thankful. They also remind us that we are all in the same boat. The guy next door may appear to have the world by the tail, but his health is compromised and he's still really lost without Jesus. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? That lady in Bible Study tells great stories about her 4.0 student but rarely mentions the absentee husband. The kid can bench press 415, run a 4.5, and still has a 3.4 gpa, and he hopes that his alcoholic mom forgets to come to the games after what happened last season. Life is a contact sport and it can get pretty rough. But since every one of us has something out-of-whack, we probably ought to go easy on each other with a little less judgemental ism, be a lot more encouraging, and be a lot more prayerful.

We are all a bit like Swiss cheese. We all gots holes, but holes and all, we can make life more flavorable. And you know what else? Holes are the places Jesus comes into our lives. For a long time He has been pretty good at taking our hole-y lives and making us wholly His.

...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ...  Eph. 4:14

Holey to Holy,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Strengthen What Remains

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us. The fact that I can write 9/11 and you know what I am referencing speaks in and of itself to a life changing day. To "the greatest generation" you can ask them about Pearl Harbor Day and they will tell you about the events of Dec. 7, 1941. It changed them. It changed the world as 9/11 has done for this generation.

Everyone is writing, speaking, remembering, and commemorating the day on the airwaves, the print media, and now in social media. This is as it should be.  I, personally, have not been able to string together one stream of thought to form an article for this medium. My thoughts start in one place and run to another. Frankly, I remember having the same problem ten years ago on 9/11. I couldn't and can't get my mind around this attack. I didn't have a very extensive vocabulary for terrorism, radical Islam, enhanced safety measures and war that was brought to our shores back then. It is still strange today, unfortunately, less strange.  But I've pulled together a few of my scattered thoughts on this new reality.

* Evil is real. 9/11 is not a case of normally good people having a bad week or month. Deadly, hateful, destructive evil was loosed on America that day. It has happened before, it will happen again, and is happening today in this world to various individuals, peoples, and nations. The consequences of sin in a fallen world affects every single person on the planet. If we didn't know it before, we know it now--there are dark, sinister, evil forces at work in this world.
*Children born in the last 14 or 15 years have no emotional nor visual memory of 9/11. The few exceptions are the ones who lost loved ones. The kid who was 2 or 5 or not born views 9/11 like I did Pearl Harbor Day or San Jacinto Day. I think this is good. They learn from parents, teachers, and media that something bad happened and they should learn about its history but life went on and they have been able to enjoy it for the most part. Bad, even evil, horrible times can be gotten through and overcome.
*Silence is a viable response to tragedy. Sometimes silence in the face of grief is the first and best response. No words are big enough to cover the kinds of pain 9/11 birthed. In time, silence can envelope it in grace. In time, after the tears have fallen, words begin to form from a place that is bigger than our pain. Ideally, this Place of largeness is the very Presence of God himself and this Greatness of Presence gives rise to hope, courage, nobility, and love. And yet, if words don't come, all these qualities can still be expressed in thoughts and actions.
*When the honest questions of  'why' are asked about people, evil, war, and God, "I don't know" is an honest response. It doesn't clear up all mysteries but we will not get out of this life having cleared up all its mysteries. We live by faith, not by sight the Apostle Paul tells us. The most important things are never seen with physical eyes anyway. Why doesn't God stop.... why doesn't God do more.... why doesn't God.....? I don't always know, but from what I know of Jesus and faith tells me that one day I will.
*There are lessons to be taken away from ground zero and all the "ground zeros" of life. Lessons about evil, good, perseverence, pain, overcoming, courage, faith, forgiveness and redemption are there in the rubble and are taken away in cleaning up the rubble. With these life is then built.
*I try to make 9/11 personal. I was a thousand miles away and knew no one in the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, or the twin towers. It hurt. It caused fear, anger, resentment, doubt, and a hundred other emotions and thoughts. So I read the biographical information of victims on the internet or when they are shown on television. I get to know the soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq through the local newspapers or wherever I find their stories. This hurts frankly. But I need this hurt. It keeps 9/11 real. It keeps the wars that 9/11 spawned closer. It keeps prayers more fervent. It instills thankfulness for goodness and the sacrifices made for me and mine. It helps to identify with other human beings hurting and helps keep life sacred. So I watch the ESPN video of the Man in the Red Bandana. It hurts but I am thankful for his bravery. I look deeply as I can into the eyes of Cpl. Roberts' picture on tv when his sacrifice is highlighted and tear up when his funeral procession is shown from the airport to the church. I recite John Dunne's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and remind myself that ''no man is an island..." The war on terror and the spiritual  warfare to which all Christians are called must remain personal.
*We are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq and fighting terrorism on physical, intelligence and financial fronts. We must continue this. We will not win this war by these means. This is a spiritual war and it must be fought and won on our knees. People need salvation and that comes only in a relationship with Jesus. The church must fight by prayer and mission endeavors. Jesus is the hope for our world. The church needs to act like it believes this and live accordingly.
*Keep going forward. Until the final trumpet is sounded and the final word of history is spoken keep moving forward, even at a snail's pace if that is what can be managed but keep going forward. Evil, destruction, pain, sin and death will not have the final word, Jesus does. So keep going until He tells you to stop.

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Revelation 3:2


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tough New Laws

September 1 is going to be really hard on a few folks in my family, mainly the dumb cousins and the smart ones. It has come to pass that new laws enacted in the recent Texas legislative session and some leftover ones from past sessions that had to visit the courts first go into effect tomorrow (Sept. 1) Because of the nature of the laws this will prove problematic for some of my extended family, both the crooks and lawyers.

Among them, it has now become lawful for Texas to join their Oklahoma neighbors in noodling. I must confess that I didn't know noodling wasn't legal in Texas. I just thought Texans were smarter than the Oklahoma boys and Alabama girls who noodled a lot. Anyway, I suppose being able to catch fish under the banks of rivers and creeks with your bare hands is progress.  Or is could be a fishing expedition by Gov. Perry to lure voters to his side from the south. Time will tell but this may be hard on a few of my cousins. I'll explain later.

Some of the other laws are the pork chopper law which makes it legal to shoot feral hogs from a helicopter. It is now legal to take your gun to work with certain provisions. The highest legal speed has been raised to 85 mph but the roads where its ok aren't designated yet. Strip clubs that sell alcohol must charge a $5 fee (pole tax?) of its patrons. Funeral protests must be finished three hours before the actual funeral or you go to jail. Amber alerts will be used for missing adults. We also have a new concussion law that requires coaches to immediately take their players out of a game or practice if a concussion is suspected.

I can see the problems coming now. Cousin Slim calls our Cousin Mike, a lawyer......
Cousin Mike? This y'here is Cousin Slim. I'm in trouble, I think....
What's wrong Cousin Slim?
I'm in jail.
What did you do?  Why are you in jail?
I'm not sure. I thought ever'thang I did was legit and legal like,but this young County Deputy pulls me over and then hauls me off to jail.
Well, the man pulls me over for speeding but I weren't going but 83.
Where were you going 83?
On I 20 'tween Abilene and Weatherford. Ain't the speed limit 85 now?
Not everywhere Cousin. Is speeding the only problem?
No, they say theys going to add a bunch more charges after the CSI folks go over my car.
What other charges, Slim?
Well, Cuz, they say probably kidnapping and murder.
Eazee, Cuz. It's all a big mistake. That young sheriff's deputy jumped to some pretty far conclusions when he saw my rifle under my backseat, but it wore locked up and hid and everything.
So why did that bother him?
I guess it was the smell.
What smell?
And maybe the blood.
What Blood?
The smell and blood a'coming from the trunk of my car.
How, what in heaven's ....why, wh....
Eazee, Cuz. It's all explanable. I was driving fast to get back to football practice in Azle. All the coaches in Texas got locked up by the third week of the season for not reportin' concuzuns. So us parents took over coaching. Well, I took a quick trip out to Abilene to shoot sum of them wild pigs running around out there in the Oak and Meskeet trees. We flew up in Cousin Gyro's, our Greek cousin by marriage, helochopper to get a better shot. All legal now, you now. We got some bigguns. One or two might have been on a hog farm but its' hard to see the fence line up in the air. Anyway, it was getting a mite late so we throwd a couple of the oinkers in the back of my caddy's trunk. Barely had room in there with the catfish.
What catfish???
Oh, yeah, I forgot. I stopped off at Cousin Barge's place on the Brazos and we had breakfast early this morning and went noodling for a spell. We each grooped a couple of twenty pounders and the big one, he may have been closer to 30, put a big gash on my wrist, stuck that old barb in my other hand and slapped me in the face with his tail. My eye swole up but its ok. I looked like I'd been in a fight. I meant to stop at that store by the 281 cut off  to buy ice but plumb forgot as I was thinking how I was going to tell Doris how that $10 charge got on our American Express from a strip joint last night. I sware, Cuz, I was just there to have a beer with Cousin Wily, I wasn't even lookin at them women but he was broke and I didn't have $10 cash  for the pole tax after the beers so I put it on American Express and Doris pays the bills and when she sees that she's gunna have Cousin Terry over here to counsel me again and I can't stand that preacher nosing in my bizness.  Anyway, I forgot the ice and by the time I throwed them hogs in there them fish was pretty ripe. But I had to hurry to get to football practice and I figured I still had time since the speed limit was 85.
But how does all that add up to a kidnapping and murder charge?
Well, while all that was going on the police in Throckmorten, that's Bob Lilly's homeplace you know, well they put out an a-dult amber alert for a missing elderly gentleman last seen in a '86 Caddy just like mine. So the deputy pulls me over for speeding, sees me purdy banged up from the fish fight, smells something decomposin' and walks to the back of the car and sees blood coming out the bottom of the trunk and thinks I've done kidnapped the man, had a fight with him, shot him with my rifle, stuck 'em in my trunk, and am trying to get away real fast when all I was trying to do was get back to coach the linebackers and special teams. Next thing I know I'm on the ground and they's impounding my car and calling a CSI team from Ft. Worth to come check it out.
Why didn't they just open the trunk?
Oh, did I forget to tell you that after we noodled a bit we went fishin' the old fashion way Grandaddy taught us, with dynomite. The officer might have seen an extra stick on the backseat and got all scared about a bomb. Can you help me, Cousin...

Have a safe Labor Day and watch out for those new laws.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Faces in the Crowd

They scarely get a nod in scripture but somehow we got their name. There are a number of Jims, Marys, Josephs, Zacks, Erastus, Linus', Demas', and Aris but little else is known. Good guys?  A few bad apples? In some cases not even a name is listed but just a description: a jailer, a whore, a beggar, a thief, a businessman, a woman caught, a man forgotten, even a Samaritan. No, not too many ever noticed these folks in their day.

But God did.

Each was just another face in the crowd, the kind you pass by every day in the grocery store, at the gas station, in the mall or at the table next to you in Applebys. Come on, why would you notice them? Better question is why did Jesus? Why did their name or their description get in His book? And if God noticed maybe we should too. Maybe in those faces in the crowd He saw something that drew His attention, His compassion, His dying interest. Maybe in some way He saw you and me and everyone else who thinks they are just a face in a crowd and He noticed. God saw, God noticed, God knew. There was no reason but God in Christ has His own reason. He knew what it was like to be noticed. He knew that from the time He was twelve in the temple confounding rabbis. He knew what it was like to go unnoticed, just asked who knew anything about Him when He as twenty-six and sweaty in the back of a hot carpenter shop. Imagine that, the creator of the world sanding down a stickey door for the Cohens. His own prophet described Him in Isaiah 53 as having no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His apprearance that we should desire Him.  Through it all He seemed to know what it was like to get attention for the wrong reasons (Luke 2: 41-51) and to be shunned when He should be noticed (John 6:60-68).

What does He see in your face? Does He see past the smile to a broken heart? Does He trace a line etched  deeply into your forehead by stress just like a stylus does to marble? Does He see pain? Despair? Lonliness? Fear? Disappointment? You know what He really sees? He sees what is there. He sees what parents, coaches, teachers, lovers, kids, friends, illnesses, divorce, affairs, jobs, choices and time have put there. He also sees something else---the things that He, and He alone can put on that mug of yours. He sees the hope, the health, the joy, the reunions, and eternity that He can add to those lines and what love and forgiveness  can do for tired eyes faded by lights that aren't eternal.

So look around you. See those faces in the crowd at Wal Mart and the game next Friday. Look around some more and see if you can see what He sees. He's betting that you can and that you will respond in some way like He did when He picked your face out of the crowd. Better yet, look in the faces of all those people around you and I'd bet you will see something else. Look closely, beyond the things people try to hide behind.  Yeah, there it is... in that little baby, in that old couple helping each other along, in that fifty-seven year old that still feels a spark when he sees his wife, in that  little boy, that girl, that teenager with piercings and that twenty-something with  twelve tats and four rug rats....yeah, now you see, it's something Holy. He saw it too when He picked your face out of the crowd and decided to love you. What will you do with those faces in the crowd?


PS: For White Bluff Chapel attenders, the next sermon series will be "Faces in the Crowd" starting Sept 18.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hello London

and President Obama and Wall Street and Rick and Gen. Ben and  Gen. John and Mr. 401k and Mr T Party and Oprah, and Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew and Dr. No and Democrats and Republicans and  Dow and Jones and  Ricky Bobby and Syria and Somalia and everyone else who doesn't read this article,
     You've all had quite a ride lately. I appreciate all the efforts to fix US. And there is no doubt that you've got plenty of material to work with. Some of your policies and programs might even work for a while. I hope so. I also doubt so.
      Sorry for the negative vibe and thanks for all the efforts but there's a problem: You are all trying to fix problems with political, military, medical, educational, financial and sweet, baby Jesus cultural band-aids that are not cultural, military, medical, political et al in nature. Our world has a spiritual problem but we are just arrogant enough to believe otherwise. So we throw money at the issues, throw the other party at the issues, throw more of everything but repentance at ourselves. You can't fix spiritual problems by any other means than by trusting and obeying the Spirit of God.
     I know, I know... I'm just a country preacher who is very naive about the world and how it really works. The point is well taken but oh, by the way, how is the world doing running itself its own way? Yeah, I know, just give it a little more time, a little more money, a different president, a different congress et cetera, et cetera  ad nauseum.
     Listen, London, I am so sorry for all you've experienced a couple of weeks ago. You sounded so confused, concerned and befuddled at the violence of your street riots. You couldn't see the reason and the rhyme for that reaction. Well, one of your own cultural prophets predicted it four years ago. He was a bit taken by the extent of it but not it's occurrence. Birmingham University Dean, James Author, in an interview about his Learning for Life initiative said: "We are talking about a large group of people who have not gained serious qualifications to participate in society. ... these children (Hodge Hill area) were less optimistic about the future, and they didn't feel they belonged to civil society. They were less positive about the virtues---honesty, trustworthiness, courage, justice and others.....They have such a weak base for the values of a civil society, in fact, many of them lack a moral language to discuss moral questions, because they don't have the kinds of traditions such as religion, in order for them to discuss these matters."* Dr. Authur goes on the say that America's kids are probably only twenty years from this place in our society. So my naive encouragement is to hear the words of Jesus: O, London, London, how often I have longed to gather you as a hen gathers its chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (para. Matt. 23:37)
     Wall Street's woes begin with greed and selfishness. We try to make money on the futures\speculation markets in direct disobedience to Jesus' admonition in the sermon on the mount to "not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth" and the Apostle Paul's teaching in 1 Thess. "to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and you will not be dependent on anybody." Our problems seldom lie in what is happening but what a handful of folks think or fear will happen. We feast on fear and will choke on the bones of our bankruptcy, moral and financial. Our national debt and personal debt is drowning us. We print paper to fix one problem and buy on plastic to try and fix another. We are not a self-denying, delay of gratification nation. We stuffed so much in our debt closet that it's about to explode. These are spiritual issues of contentment, honesty, and exploitation of fear for profit. We need the words of another kind of prophet speaking in Isaiah 55. "Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fair. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, the the evil man his thoughts....for my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord."
   Yes, yes, my naive rantings continue. Why should any one listen? Why should I even write? This article will not change the egocentric, jaded world of power politics. It's hard to remember the goal of the political process because of the political excess we see. Waste, deficits, pork-barrel bills, special interest lobbies-- a simple minded person such as myself should stay away and keep quiet about these matters.  We try to export democracy as the shining light for all nations but keep forgetting that the lamp is lit with noble character and its hard to export that if you don't possess it. My silly mind still hears words of justice, equality, freedom, and community as echos from history lessons and civic textbooks. I was silly enough to believe them I guess. But these virtues are also based in the the very nature and character of God. For it was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal.5:1) and we are to let ''justice roll down like waters, righteousness like and never failing stream." (Amos 5:24) Can the church make justice and righteousness desirable in the citizens of the nation? If they can't do that as salt and light, then who can? Who will?
      Enough. My mind is tired and my world isn't fixed, but my hope is. The Psalmist declares in 57:7, "My heart is fixed (kjv) O, God, my heart is fixed." Interestingly, when our hearts are fixed on Him we find many things fixed around us. Jesus said he would never leave us nor forsake us. It may get rough in a world that has forgoetten God, but the promise of God is that He will never forget all who trust Him. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you by my righteous right hand. ( Is. 41:10) So steady my friend, steady. God is on his throne. Let's help each other walk toward it. Follow the Light, follow the Light......
       Pray that in these troubling, upsetting days the steadfast light of Jesus' righteousness will shine brightly through His people.
      The Light of the World is still Jesus.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Church with No Cross

I was in Austin recently to perform by niece's wedding. I was tickled to do it and Austin is always a cool place to visit. This was what some folks refer to as a venue wedding. I think that it's kind of like a destination wedding but not as far away as Costa Rica or Belize or Tahiti. So the wedding party from Dallas boogies down to Austin with friends and relatives arriving at the "venue" from points far and near.

 The venue was a cluster of old buildings at a ranch southwest of Austin arranged in the style of an old western town. If you are old enough think, 'Gunsmoke,' if you are young, think 'Cowboys and Aliens' as far as a town setting. The town's main street was rustic with an old barber shop, school house, feed store, saloon, which was, fittingly enough, the groom's quarters and of course, an old church. I felt like I'd walked onto the set for High Noon. I kept looking for Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper to come running around the corner trying to get away from Frank Miller.  The young people in the wedding party gave me a very quizzical look when I started singing "do not forsake me oh, my darling, on this our wedding day...." at the rehearsal. They were clueless as I would have been if they started singing something from Lady Googa.

I arrived at the appointed time for the rehearsal, which meant I was forty-five minutes ahead of everyone else. I wandered around and looked in the buildings and then settled in a chair at the back of the old church. It was air conditioned but other than that the owners of the ranch left things pretty well untouched from its original use as a worship center. The church was small and simple by today's standards. It could hold about 125 worshippers. I'm guessing it was 80 to 150 years old. It had oak plank floors that creaked a little in certain places when you walked. It had tongue-in-groove planking for the walls. It had a tiny foyer with a rope to pull the church bell above in the steeple. A vintage upright piano from Steinway and Sons, (London, New York and Boston) stood in the corner ready for gifted hands or five year olds looking for a release of energy. The pews were wooden, extremely upright and comfort was not a concept in their design. It had a platform that was about a foot high and was eight foot square. The alter was a rectangle block about four by five. Everything was simple, functional, purposeful in that old church. It gave a good feel. The vibe was quietium sub gravitas. But something was missing.

There was no cross. There was no pulpit. There was no communion table. There were no symbols of Christianity at all. Yes, it was simply a wedding chapel now. People could bring whatever symbols and decorations into the building now and make the building fit their belief system. I have no quarrel with that. This only makes sense for a retreat, wedding,  and party venue that would have clients from many faiths and many backgrounds. Yet as I sat in the back of that old church building I noticed a sense of sadness in my spirit, not so much for the way the little church is used now, as it still occasionally functions as a church and Jesus' name is honored there. My melancholy was for so many churches that are trying to function as a church today yet still have no cross except on the wall. A church without a cross is like an ocean without water, a mountain with no height, a farm with no dirt, or a home with no people. Jesus' words of "take up your cross and follow me'' are strange to hear now days. We preach self-awareness and self-fulfilment but not much do we hear of self-denial. We speak of our churches as  successful, inspiring, dynamic, happening, atttractional, friendly, and missional. We desire them to be relational and relative and real.  Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John used words like humble, crucified, fruitful, persevering, faithful, self-controlled, and loving. We have plenty of programs in our  "western" churches these days, lots of gadgets, a highly motivated and educated clergy, and much fear, disengagement, selfishness, and angst. The calm assurance, the peaceful mind, the stilled heart with the steeled resolve to love, serve, and sacrifice all the while longing for our eternal home are too often missing. Maybe the little church in the wedding venue in southwest Austin held the clue as to why and how: why this is true and how can it change. Jesus said, "anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27)  Paul's view was "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  Galatians 6:14

When I came for the wedding the next day, the chapel had been beautifully decorated. My niece had hung a cross at the front.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Relationship Between Prayer and Rain

                                                     I"ve seen fire and I've seen rain,
                                                        I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
                                                       I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,
                                                            But I always thought I'd see you again.
                                                                                                        James Taylor

For all our progress and advancements we are still a very fragile race. The ongoing drought shows that  truth very plainly and we who live under a massive dome of high pressure can readily attest. The land, the elderly, the poor, the crops, wild animals, the cattle and several industries are in trouble. The amount of trouble depends on your age, debt, savings, outlook, experience, place in the food chain and whether you are selling a\c units or having to buy one. We try facing the trouble of no rain with busy-ness. We try humor that gets less humorous with the fourth reception of the same e-mail about the heat in Texas. We try to travel out of town or ignore the drought. We try optimism and patience. Still we see the fire and no rain and so, being Christians, we try prayer.

We also turn to science. We are enlightened about the decrease in sun spots which affect the atmosphere and we also now know about 'La Nina,' the Pacific wind current that blows opposite of 'El Ni no.' These things are cyclical and we must be in a dry cycle. Did you ever put your dryer on for sixty minutes when you meant twenty? We can now name the problems and even somewhat predict them but it doesn't change things does it? It's like being sick and finally finding the name of the disease. It doesn't make you better but you can talk intelligently about it. Oh, and being Christian, we pray.

We also try questions. Is a drought the way Mother Nature "rests" the land? Is this a way to let some grasses, bushes, tress, and animals be thinned out to prevent overcrowding? (if it is it's working in my yard) Is this the result of global warming? pollution? gov't mismanagement? nuclear fall-out? democrats or republicans? Will our advance in science help us weather (pun intended) this lack of storms better than folks did in the 30's or 50's? Is this part of the end times? The questions abound and increase with the dust but so far few answers are very satisfying so we ask God another question: may we have some rain?

Really what else can we do? If God is trying to get our attention like He did in the Old Testament then let's listen. If we need to repent as a nation or an individual then let's repent. Don't let the weather decide that, read God's word and listen to His Holy Spirit, and let Him tell you not the clouds. If we have messed up the environment, then let's learn to live simply and cleanly. We need to do that anyway, whether it is wet or dry. If this drought is a cycle to be repeated more or less every 20-30 years then hold on and get ready for the next one. It there are lessons to be learned, then let's learn them, if its trials to be endured then let us endure them. As the old preacher used to say, "when da Lawd sends tribulations, He expects His chillrens to tribulate." As Christians there is nothing in this world that can't befall us including drought, flood, tornado, illness and eventually death. But we never face these alone. A person can learn many things, endure many things, hope many things but only Jesus can restore and guarantee the essential thing--a relationship with Him and an eternal home in heaven, which I choose to believe is sixty nine degrees.

There are many good things in this life above and beyond its hardships. So as Christians, we pray for the lost, we pray for the lonely, the sick, the hungry and we pray for justice. We pray we might be loving, kind, and generous. We pray joyfully and thankfully for all the blessings, we pray without ceasing, and we even pray for rain in times of drought. Because as followers of Christ we know that in His way, in His time, for our good and His glory He hears us and responds.
                                                  won't you look down upon me Jesus,
                                                                   you got to help me make a stand,
                                                                   just got to see me through another day,
                                                                 My body's aching and my time is at hand.
                                                                 I won't make it any other way.
None of us make any other way, James. What does Jesus need to see you through today?

Dust Cos

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Prayer-a for Klaira

I watch from a distance as I head into the autumn of life to see the experiences of my sons as they approach their summer seasons. Many are similar, some correspond to experiences I had at those times but my eldest son has taken a path I'll never tread. He is now the papa of a baby girl, Klaira Reese, who breathed the pneuma of life for the first time last Saturday evening.  I noticed a text on my phone at seven pm Texas time that said they were at the hospital. The text was sent at five thirty. By seven thirty we got the call that Klaira was here and all 7 lbs. 6 oz and 22 inches of her were fine. We were relieved, ecstatic, and a little blue all at once.

We were relieved  because early in Melissa's pregnancy they were told some tests showed bad defects and deformities and were told abortion was an option. Abortion would never be an option to Matt and Melissa. The tests were wrong. Later tests didn't show any problems but there were lingering questions way back in the mind so Pam and I were greatly relieved at the good news of health. We were, as any grandparents, absolutely thrilled at her arrival. Thoughts flooded the mind faster than they could be processed. Questions about her looks, sounds, how momma was doing, how big brother was doing, did she have hair, what color was her hair (blond), did she look like Kaden and a dozen more flashed across the mind that the birth had delivered. But we were also a bit sad. When Kaden was born we were there as soon as the "come on" was sounded. Distance, health, local family availability, and other considerations mean we have to wait a bit. We wanted to catch her up in our arms and squeeze, snuggle, nuzzle, caress, kiss, and feel that sweet baby's breath on our own cheeks...but that will have to wait. Waiting is hard. There is still an element that is not  yet real about it all to us, but it will be. I guess that's kind of like the second coming in a sense.

Klaira was a bit early, by ten days or so. When she and the Lord decided it was time, she came so quickly that Melissa didn't have time to have her epidural shot so Klaira was delivered naturally. I began to wonder what other surprises Klaira might have in store. What will she like and dislike? Will she like ice cream and chocolate like her daddy? Will she enjoy photos like her mom? How will she feel about fashion or will she be tom-boy?  Will she be athletic or musical or artistic? Will she break into a smile like her big brother when he sees MiMi and Grandcos on the computer? Will she be tall or short? Will she be thin like her mom, dad,  and MiMi or pudgy like her Grandcos? Will she be stubborn, conforming, rebellious, studious, playful or serious?  The questions keep coming, time will reveal answers, and more questions no doubt in the life of Klaira. That is a big part of what life is, isn't it? We ask, we learn, we face mystery and ultimately we trust someone or something. That led me to my second prayer for Klaira after her arrival.

I was up a bit earlier than normal Sunday morning. I wasn't preaching so the sermon didn't dominate my mind from 6 AM on as it usually does. In the quietness of the morning I wanted to pray for Klaira. I turned to the Psalms for their richness of truth and beauty and storehouses of prayers to find the right expressions. I started reading and cobbled together a prayer for Klaira. Some thoughts from Psalm 90,113,121, a few others and then Psalm 139 finished the prayer. It went something like this....

O Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all our generations. You have now added another blessing in this generation. We praise you, O Lord, for the gift of Klaira and I pray that from the rising of the sun each day of her life to the place where it sets, may she always praise your Name above all. Watch over her, Lord, now and throughout her life. You do not sleep nor slumber and you know there will be days of shade and shadows in her life as well as days of sun and brightness. Keep her in your watch in all those days of darkness or light--may she feel your Presence. May she know the freedom of your mercy, the depth of your salvation, the light of your hopes for her and the joy of your love. You will search her and know her as no other can. Hem her in with your will and may her heart always be tuned to sing your praises. You created her and knit her together in Melissa's womb. When evil reports called for her ending before her beginning, your voice was heard above all. May she always hear your Voice above all others. Keep her from the vanity and selfishness so prevalent in our world. May she learn quickly that the world doesn't revolve around her but help her to let her world revolve around You. May she always know your precious thoughts toward her. May she be unable to count them any more that she could count the grains of sand by the sea. Grant her, in your timing, salvation through your Son and may her faith in Him always be strong and her love for Him be seen in deeds of mercy and service. Thank-you for the grace that makes this miracle life. May we all, grandparents, brother, family, and parents be good stewards of this joy, this gift of Klaira.          Amen

You may find me occasionally refer to Klaira as Klaira Grace. That was originally going to be her name and that stuck in my head and heart. Family will just have to roll their eyes and give me 'that look' when I call her Klaira Grace. Once you have grace in your heart, it's impossible to get it out.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

That's Church to Me

Voice 1: Candle's aroma...the Lord's Prayer...reciting the Nicene Creed....that's church to me.....
Voice 2: Anthems and organs, reflective prayers and planting seeds of niceness....that's church to me....
Voice 3: Stained glass windows, the jangle of Mrs Whitt's jewelry on the piano as she played, the creak of
old wooden floors beneath my feet... that's church to me....
Voice 4: Guitars and keyboards, choruses and celebration, extemporaneous prayer, and a screen to see... that's church to me...
Voice 5: Having it all from quiet to loud, from 15th  century to last week. Why settle for less than what should be? that's church to me!
Voice 6: All good and well as far as it goes but without a system it works not well. Organize it, account for it, dot every "i" and cross every "t" that's what church should be for you as it is for me...
Voice 7:   Excuse me? Excuse me?
1,2,3, 4, 5, 6   Who's that? What voice is that we've never heard? Why should we listen and interrupt our words?
Voice 7: Oh, I'm Jesus and was wondering, have any of you ever asked what church is to me?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rain, Titus, and VBS

Rain is a delicate subject around these parts, more so a little down south. I published a prayer for rain last week and within five days it rained. I'm not about to take credit for the recent liquid blessings any more than I'll accept blame for the blast furnace heat of previous days and coming days. However, I, we, need to be thankful and show faith in response to God's faithfulness in sending the showers and yet not insolent enough to publish a prayer for rain every time I think we need one. I'd be "rain writing" about every two weeks or so in Texas were that the case and probably disappointed most of the time.  None of us can control the weather, in fact there are a lot of  things we can't control. So we pray to the One who can and thank-Him when our prayers are answered with a "yes." And when He doesn't answer when and how we want, we ask Him for the strength, endurance, and peace then trust His grace and goodness to provide in His way and His time all it takes to live a life pleasing to Him. You and I will see more drought and we will see more rain. These and other variables we can't control will plague and bless us as we go through life. There is only One in whom there is no shadow of turning who remains the same yesterday, today and forever. In all the variables of life, trust Him.


I am a highly organized being. I like order in the midst of disorder. I seek precision and shun chaos. Before creation began we are told in Genesis (KJV) that chaos ruled over the deep. All one has to do is look at my desk and see the penchant for order I possess. I have precisely ordered stack of books, notepads, scraps, post-its, calendars and drinking vessels at the ready. Just this past week I went looking for five different items and found three of them in quick order.  Any major league batter would kill for that kind of average. My garage is the same way. In the middle are two vehicles. In the thirty-five years of my marriage, when we have been blessed to have a garage, I have never once lost a vehicle in one. The plan is simple and direct: the vehicles go in the middle of the garage, side by side, everything else is to be piled around the interior walls of the garage. This system has worked perfectly. That's why a discovery in Titus (that's a book in the Bible for you Baylor grads) thrilled me this AM. In chapter one, verses five and six, the apostle Paul is helping Titus organize the church. It needed straightening out and some leadership put in place. Going on to read the rest of Titus it is clear Paul thinks these correctives are needed to show God's grace, say "no" to ungodliness, and do good for folks till Jesus appears. (Chapter 2:11-14) For Paul's understanding of God and His church shows a vital relationship of grace and mercy that lives itself out in holiness and service. His church world was not an either\or but a both\and when it comes to doctrine and passion; faith and works; loving devotion and service; working and waiting on Christ's return. All this took time, energy, and organization. Titus is a good book for the unloving, undisciplined, and unprincipled as well as the stuffed shirts, rules saturated, good-works-are-enough folks. In many ways it is a book of divine balance.
      My righteousness may look a little rumpled compared to yours, but I need your organizational skills to put my wacky ideas into working order. You may at some time need my laughter to balance a silly notion that if you looked good, behaved properly, and organized everything, all life would work out. God's grace welcomes us all and then it puts us together in such a way that balance is achieved. In some circles this is also known as peace.

Vacation Bible School is great! Our children's minister, Kay Lea, is a great, and I mean a great VBS director. One of the great things she did was get great people to help her. The teachings are great, the rec is great, the snacks are great( no lame Kool Aid and two Hydrox cookies we got when I was a kid in VBS. no wonder kids quit church after growing up). The organization is great. The crafts are great. But the greatest things about VBS is the kids. They thrill my heart. I'm expecting a baby granddaughter in a few weeks and I've been mesmerized by little girls and the way they act, look and interact. I keep thinking: "I'm going to have one of those in my family." Wow. What will I do? I'll stare a lot at first but I'll learn. We had boys so they are a bit of a mystery to me. I can hardly wait.

One kid, a boy, of course, was looking at the pastor's portraits in the main hall of the church. He was really studying mine and even tracing the dates of my pastorship etched in the nameplate below. (Now understand that I "play" a character called Terrible Terry the Tweenager at VBS. He is kid who never grew up living between being a teen and grown up and he loves comic book super heroes. He is kinda like the comic book guy in the Simpsons without the cigarette. He also knows nothing about Jesus and VBS is teaching him). The kid turns around and sees me standing there in my terrible Terry clothes and turns and looks back at the portrait and in utter amazement declares: Terry Cosby is the PASTOR of this Church?!!!?  He expressed the sentiments of untold dozens. I love VBS kids.

Comic Book Cos

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Prayer for Rain

I've collected a few prayers through the years, most of them I highlight in books or stick in a folder somewhere and can never find. I got lucky this week and actually found one I was looking for and wanted to share it with you. I was written, I believe, sometime forty to sixty years ago. From the internal contents and the defunct magazine from which it originally came I believe it came from an era when Texas wasn't as air conditioned or as urban.  It was written by a man. There was a horrible drought in Texas in the mid 50's. I don't know if it was from then or not but it would fit. I hope it worked then and would love to see it happen now. But do notice how knowledgeable the author is with the names of God and how specifically picturesque, if not downright forward, he is in his requests. We might do well to put as much thought into our prayers. Enjoy.......

O Lord, in thy mercy, grant us rain and by that we don't mean a shower. We want to go out and watch the lightning rip across the southwest sky in hot blue forks as the fat clouds roll in on us. We want to scramble all over the house, just as the first sheets descend, frantically slamming down the windows.

O Lord of Hosts, we want to look out of the windows and watch the regiments of close-packed raindrops march diagonally down. We want to hear the gurgle of gutters under the eaves, and then the spatter of the downpour.

O God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, let it come down so hard, let the drops dance so high that the streets and sidewalks seem covered with a 6-inch fog of spatter drops, then let it just keep up for a while, and then begin to taper off and then turn rights around and get a lot worse: swishing, pounding, splattering, pouring, drenching, the thunder coming Crackity-BAM! And the lightning flashing so fast and furious that you can't tell which flash goes with which peel of thunder---so that all the women will get scared and climb on top of the beds and scream at you not to get too close to that window. And then, O jealous God, repeat the whole act about three times and in the middle of the second time we will climb the attic stairs and put a wash tub under that tiny leak in the roof which you don't usually notice in an ordinary rain. After a couple of hours, kinda taper it on down, O Lord, to a good steady rain...not a drizzle, but a business-like one that keeps on until just about dawn and the spits a few drops occasionally during the morning from a gray sky.

Texas is indeed the Promised Land, O Lord, and if it gets a break, it will flow with milk and honey, but we can't live much longer on promises. So in Thine own way and Thine own time, make up Thy mind, O Lord, and we will bow before Thy judgement and praise Thine everlasting name.
Amen  (from Farm Show Magazine)