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.