Monday, August 30, 2004

Observations from a Traveling Musician

Friday night a friend and I spent an evening with singer/songwriter Allen Levi.
Now as a disclaimer, that might sound like it was me and him just hanging out – and that’s not entirely true – but in the intimate venue it felt like it was just Allen, me and a few friends.
Allen pointed out that as a singer/songwriter his main job is to notice things.
I thought that was a good job summary.
As an editor/columnist/storyteller, I think that’s my main job as well.
So in the spirit of my new job summary, I want to share some of the things I noticed (with the help of Allen).
People are big. Houses are small.
I think we’ve all seen drawings done by younger children.
People are not proportional, but yet nine-times-out-of-ten, they’re all smiling as big as they can.
They may have eight fingers on one hand and two on the other.
They may be as skinny as a blade of grass, with a giant pumpkin for a head, but they don’t mind.
They may have no clothes or feet, but the people in drawings by children, don’t seem to mind. They’re a part of a great big happy universe, where judging and laughing at others does not exist.
Allen told the story of a four-year-old friend of his who loved drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.
Her drawings were a wonderful representation of how she viewed the world.
And Levi noticed that in all of her drawings, Olivia would always draw the people big and the houses small.
These giant people that Olivia saw would never be able to fit into their tiny houses, but that wasn’t important to Olivia.
She put the importance upon the people.
And that’s what Christ did as well. He didn’t care what house you lived in, what position you held, whether you were a leper, a blind man, or a He-man. You were important in His eyes.
People are big. Houses are small.Southern Living vs. Southerners living
If we were to take two houses, you might find a stark contrast in their make up.
The house at 610 might be the picture of beauty and class.
While the house at 612 might be cluttered with bikes in the yard, mud on the floor and a wet dog chasing kids over the couch.
610 has a ghost of a man, with a wife and two kids who are never seen.
612 is a family of five who love each other and those around them.
610 never has company, they’re too busy with their job and school and soccer games.
612 never minds the interruptions of “happy lightening,” when people stop by unexpected, just to enjoy the company of friends.
It’s never really known if the people at 610 are home or gone.
The house looks the same; no one outdoors, no bright welcoming lights on and no invitations to the neighbors to visit.
You can always tell if the family at 612 is home, there kids are playing in the yard with the neighbors, the barbecue is smoking, there is laughter and music in the air, and an unwritten “Welcome” sign always hangs in the yard.
610 was pictured on a post card and a part of Southern Living magazine.
612 is the picture of where real southerners live.
Which house are you?
Are you concerned with the appearance of perfection, or the appearance of a friend?
The moon is round.
As we left the gathering Friday night, we looked up in the sky to see that the moon was about the shape of a football.
Some days, the moon is full and bright in its glory.
Other days, it’s a sliver of silver that fell to the floor from a carpenter’s bench.
And some days it doesn’t matter what shape the moon is, because the clouds are so thick you’ll never be able to see it.
But in all of its seasons, in all of its changes, the moon is round.
The moon is round on your day of birth.
The moon is round on the day you find your first love.
The moon is round on the day you get your first kiss.
The moon is round on graduation day.
The moon is round on the day you get your first promotion.
The moon is round on your wedding day.
And the moon is round when you discover you have cancer.
The moon is round when you company closes down.
The moon is round when your parents pass away.
The moon is round when your child is hurt in a car accident.
The moon is round when your spouse passes away.
And the moon is round when you pass away.
And in all of its changes and in all of its appearances, we know – the moon is still round.
“The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
If the moon is faithful to be round, isn’t its Creator the ever more faithful?
There are many more things I learned Friday night from a storyteller, a songwriter and a singer who took the time to notice and chose not to hold it all inside like the house at 610.
What will you notice this week from the Creator?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Why we Enjoy Nostalgia

I was talked into watching a chick-flick this past weekend.
How that happens I never know, except that usually a “chick” is the one talking you into watching it.
I was assured that I would learn something about women in the process.
Well I didn’t.
But I wasted two hours confirming what I already knew about them.
Ok -- maybe that’s a little harsh.
I didn’t waste the two hours, but thanks to my mom, two sisters and previous girlfriends, I knew all the movie had to say about the opposite sex.
But after reflecting on the movie, I did learn something about society as whole.
If we look at that movie and at today’s culture there seems to be a strong yearning for a return to yesterday.
A search for nostalgia.
In the wrestling world, for the past few years, people have gone gung-ho when retired wrestlers make their return to the ring.
It didn’t take long for Hulk-A-Mania to catch fire like it did in the mid-to-late 80’s.
People went berzerk for Hulk Hogan, a.k.a Terry Bollea, as he came running down the ramp in his trademark yellow and red tank tops.
And I’ll admit it -- I was a Hulk-A-Maniac all over again.
I didn’t care that he was 50 years old -- it was great reliving the Hulk Hogan of the past, the one that I remembered watching growing up.
And to be honest, I was an even bigger fan this time around.
Nostalgia is not only rampant in the World Wrestling Entertainment Company, but all around us.
People have caught on to the nostalgia craze all over.
We want to return to the past.
A sign along I-35 advertises the city of Gruene, as “Gently resisting change since 1872.”
People will get up in arms anytime you mention any possible change to an historic site.
You can turn on VH1 almost anytime of the day and you can catch reruns of “I love the 70’s,” “I love the 80’s” and “I love the 90’s,” where actors, musicians and comedians reflect on the greatness of decades past.
And I’m just as big of a fan of those shows as I was to hear Hogan’s music hit and watch him tear into The Rock.
So, what is it about nostalgia that makes us yearn for yesterday?
According to Webster, nostalgia is “A sentimental yearning to return to an earlier time remembered as happier or more pleasant, or a former place evoking happy memories; a longing to experience again a former happy time.”
But you know what, they never teach nostalgia in a history class -- because nostalgia is an imitation or maybe better yet, a limitation of the truth.
We simply block out the bad and relieve only the good times in our mind.
Will Rogers said, “Things ain't what they used to be and probably never was.”
Historian Owens Pomeroy said, “Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: you find the present tense, but the past perfect.”
I imagine most psychologists would tell us that nostalgia is good.
“We should spend time reflecting on the past,” they would tell us.
And I think it’s great to sit around and remember the past.
I always have a blast sitting around with my friends lying about how great I was in high school and college and how much better things were when we grew up.
But there’s also danger in enjoying nostalgia too much.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the past that we forget to look at the present and we forget to look to the future.
We want to return to the “good ole’ days.”
But if we really take time to look, we’ll see that the “good ole’ days” weren’t as great as we thought they were.
That’s why God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
There is something bigger and better going on right now. Today – Aug. 12, 2004. This is the best day ever – if you make it that way.
And change is a-comin,’ whether you or I like it.
I believe that if we stop and focus on the past for too long, we’ll end up loosing our grip on reality and the present.
While “I love the 90’s,” 80’s and 70’s highlights the great moments of each decade, there are also a number of fads and toys and music that no one wants to return to.
And there are also a number of issues that those shows would never touch on, because if they did, those decades would loose their nostalgia.
Does anyone really want to go back and relive the atrocities of the past?
The hostage situations?
The famine and AIDS outbreaks?
Does anyone want to go back and relieve the Challenger explosion?
Chernobyl, the Iran Contra Affair or New Coke?
Even talking with my grandparents as often as they reminisce about growing up, I don’t think they would want to return to the depression (there is a reason they called it the depression).
I don’t think anyone wants to return to World War I or II, the Korean War, the Vietnam war or Gulf Storm.
As nostalgia goes, I’m sure in 2044 I’ll all be sitting around talking about how great 2004 was and how great the 2000’s were.
I’ll pull out my PDA and laptops and show my grandkids how technologically advanced we thought we were.
I’ll talk about how great the Play Station 2 and X-Box was and how amazing the first High Definition TV’s were and they’ll look at me like an idiot.
Then they’ll go to history class and learn about terrorism and 9/11 and the fall of the stock market and think I’m nuts for wanting to go back to the “good ole’ days.”
And I’ll just smile and reminisce and wish things were the way they used to be, when kids respected their elders and you could buy a burger, fries and a coke for under $7.
“If you're yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning.” -- Griff Niblack

Monday, August 09, 2004

Honest Worship

Sunday morning I got punk'd by several of my friends.
No, I don't quite mean Punk'd like MTV's hit prank television series, but it might have felt just as bad.
As I entered the sanctuary I headed towards the back where my friends typically like to sit.
For whatever reason they had not made it into the sanctuary yet and so I chose an empty row a few rows from the very back.
After 10 minutes or so, I heard my friends laughing and talking as they walked in, only to be surprised that they sat down in the row behind me.
"That's odd." I thought to myself, pretending I didn't notice them.
Shortly thereafter they realized their mistake and began to laugh at the situation without really acknowledging I was even in the room.
Finally after my pastor came by, shook our hands and questioned our strange seating arrangement did we really acknowledge what had taken place.
Yet oddly enough, my friends chose to leave me on the pew, directly in front of them, all alone.
And despite my tough macho front, it stung abit.
No one likes to be left alone and no one likes to be left out.
The situation made me feel worse for a young boy I saw at lunch later who was forced to sit at a table all alone because he was the odd man out in his group of friends.
But despite the temporary humiliation of being punk'd by my friends and the minor sting of sitting alone during the morning service, I had a moment of epiphany during the worship.
As we sang the final song, the words of the song hit me like a lightening bolt.
We sang about Jesus being our everything, and it hit me -- "That's not true -- is it?"
Only 15 minutes earlier I had felt alone and neglected because a few friends decided not to sit by me.
That doesn't sound like someone who believes Jesus is my everything.
That doesn't sound like someone who believes Jesus is even 50-percent of everything.
It sounds more like someone who finds completeness and happiness in the approval of others.
Needless to say, I had to stop singing.
How could I honestly sing words I had trouble living?
I have a feeling that God felt a sting about as bad as I did Sunday morning.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote, "The Master said: 'These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it.'"
The Prophet Samuel told King Saul, "Do you think all God wants are sacrifices-- empty rituals just for show? He wants you to listen to him! Plain listening is the thing not staging a lavish religious production."
I believe we've become too concerned about looking good and finding approval from sinful man, rather than worshiping in "spirit and in truth."
What if I was to buy my mom a dozen roses?
What if I went out and made sure these were the best roses around? They were the right color, the perfect freshness -- everything was right.
And after I bring them home she gets excited and puts them in a vase on the table and says, "This means so much."
And what if I said to her, "Well I'm your son, its my duty," or "Well they were on sale. I wasn't really thinking of you, but they were cheap and it wasn't a hassle."
The flowers loose all their meaning. Does my mom even want the flowers anymore?
Probably not. If it's not from the heart, my mom could really care less.
One of the central prayers of the Jewish faith is this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
I can sing all day long about how Jesus is everything to me, but if it's not from the heart, where is the meaning or truth behind it?
I remember when U2 released their album "Pop" in the late 90's and people every where accused the band of leaving their Christian roots and faith behind.
People said they had lost their religion and were now caught up in the sins of the world.
Critics pointed to "Wake up Dead Man" as the prime example.
In the song Bono sings, "Jesus, Jesus help me. I'm alone in this world and a (messed) up world it is too. Tell me, tell me the story, the one about eternity and the way it's all gonna be...
"Jesus, I'm waiting here boss. I know you're looking out for us, but maybe your hands aren't free. You're Father, He made the world in seven, He's in charge of heaven. Could you put a word in for me? Wake up -- wake up dead man. Wake up -- wake up dead man."
How could a Christian sing those words? Wasn't Jesus alive and well?
Any Christian should know that Jesus isn't dead. Why would they write and sing such herasy?
Yet the more I study and the more I hear the song, I personally believe God was more pleased with that song than the empty words I started singing Sunday morning.
The song reminds me a lot of the first chapter of Habakkuk.
"How long, O LORD , must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted."
You would imagine that God might have come down and smitten Habakkuk for his questioning.
Yet God saw his heart and his honesty and reminded him to look outside his own world and see that God was at work in other places as well.
God didn't judge Habakkuk for his honest questioning, but we do see throughout scripture that God does judge those who bring empty praises and rituals to the table.
God takes no pleasure in our sacrifices if our hearts are not involved. They are a burden to him.
They're like the dozen roses. Meaninglesss.
Finally, it's interesting to note, that after questioning God and even hearing that God would bring destruction to Israel, Habakkuk sang praises from his heart.
"God, I’ve heard what our ancestors say about you, and I’m stopped in my tracks, down on my knees. Do among us what you did among them. Work among us as you worked among them. And as you bring judgment, as you surely must, remember mercy... Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!"
And similarly, the next song U2 released was "Beautiful Day."
"The heart is a bloom that shoots up through the stoney ground. There's no room, no space to rent in this town. You're out of luck and there's no reason that you had to care. You thought you found a friend to take you out of this place, someone you can lend a hand in return for grace. It's a beautiful day. The sky falls but you feel like a beautiful day."
May the words and praises of our mouth be true overflow of our heart.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Lessons from a Parking Lot

Monday night I headed to San Antonio with my good friend Chris Allman and Beau Heitmiller for WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the SBC Center.
And say what you want about wrestling, because we don’t care. We had a great time watching some of our wrestling favorites battle it out for glory and fame.
(On a side note for the Heitmillers, in case you were unaware – don’t ever give Beau caffeine after 10 p.m. He went nuts on the way home. And if he kept you awake after he made it home, don’t blame me – Chris bought the soda for him.)
Anyways, after the show we headed to the car to begin our trip home and Chris made a great observation, “Isn’t it funny how traffic brings out who you really are?”
You really show how greedy, selfish or generous you are on your way out of a traffic or parking lot jam.
We laughed as we watched people squeeze and push their way into the front of the line.
It reminded me of numerous times I’ve sat in parking lots watching people jockey for the front of the line almost as aggressive as the wrestlers we had watched earlier in the evening.
Of course my favorite cars to watch are those leaving Christian conferences and events.
You sometimes have to wonder if they attended the same event as you did.
I remember waiting almost four hours to get out of a parking lot at Southfork Ranch one year.
It was a ridiculous wait, but what I thought was more ridiculous is how rude some people would be just to get a few cars in front of others.
It’s just another reminder than no one -- including Christians -- are perfect.
I’ve been studying the Apostle Peter lately and I’ve enjoyed comparing him to myself.
When Peter was first introduced to Jesus by his brother Andrew, Jesus told him, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas.” Which when translated is Peter, or The Rock.
I wonder what Jesus was thinking when He named Peter The Rock.
As you follow Peter through the Gospels, you see that he was anything but a rock.
He was impulsive, he was unreliable and he even denied knowing Christ three times in the temple courtyard.
Sounds like me and maybe some of those other drivers scrambling for position.
Impulsive, unreliable and its so easy to deny Christ if the storms begin to come.
But Peter’s life shows a remarkable transformation.
From the impulsive disciple comes one of great leaders of the early church.
Christ told Peter, “I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
After his denial of Christ (John 18:15-18 and 25-27), he became the bold leader on the day of Pentecost, testifying to the miraculous things the people had borne witness to, leading to over 3,000 conversions that day (Acts 2).
Peter also became the bold man before the Sanhedrin which was ready to condemn him and John for their witness and testimony (Acts 4:1-22).
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved,” Peter said.
When the Sanhedrin saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus.
What a change.
What a rock.
What an example.
So while I can laugh and become bothered by those aggressive, impulsive drivers in the parking lot I need to realize that like Peter too, I’ve been in just as impulsive and selfish.
I’ve wanted to get home just as badly as they have and I’m know I’ve butted my way into a line -- or two -- or three times.
And I might never be called The Rock, but I need Christ’s transforming power in my life just as badly as Peter did – and just as badly as the drivers in that parking lot do – and just as badly as you do.
Oh -- and before I close, big props to the guy in the white car who let us cut in line Monday night.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Quit Gritting Your Teeth

People that know me know I’m not a morning person.
In no way, shape or form do I love getting up early.
Once I hit my bed, I’m in it for the long haul.
But there does come the occasional time when, for whatever reason, I wake up well before my alarm.
Tuesday morning was one of those mornings.
It’s super easy for me to shrug these early mornings off and roll back over, but I’ve come to learn that there’s usually a meaning behind my waking up early.
So as I sat in my room I was drawn to my copy of The Message and Colossians.
It’s been a while since I’ve woken up early to read, so waking up as early as I did, I knew I better find out what for.
Typically I find myself doing my reading at night, but lately even that’s been sparse.
As I read Colossians chapter 1 I enjoyed chewing on all the meat of it.
But I focused in on verses 10 through 12.
“We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in His orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul--not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us (MSG).”
What a passage.
Did you catch all of that?
I can’t even begin to touch on everything that passage says.
I may be the only one who needed to read that Tuesday morning, but I think we all have times in life where we just get frustrated and want to give up.
We’ve gritted our teeth, we’ve dug in, we’ve trudged ahead, but we’re still not getting anywhere.
Other options are trying to grab our attention and pull us from our task and we’re ready to just throw in the white flag.
Maybe we’re just stuck three feet in the mire and can’t see any way out, but there is a way out.
Now everyone will tell you to grit your teeth and pull through, but I believe that Paul is telling us something else.
He’s saying to stick it out, but us gritting our teeth won’t work.
Gritting your teeth is grim work, because your teeth will wear out. And you’ll loose the strength to carry on.
But we still have to stick it out over the long haul.
Yet as Paul points out, it’s not our strength that will get us through our troubles -- it’s the “glory-strength God gives.”
It’s the strength that Ann Tubbs has found in her sewing ministry.
It’s the strength that Steve Burke has found for his ministry in Guatemala.
It’s the strength that Dan Ramsey had as he faced his last days here on earth.
It’s the strength you can find in cancer wards around the country.
It’s the strength Mother Theresa had to carry on caring for complete strangers up until her death.
It’s not any super power that these people were born with. It’s something outside of them.
It’s the “glory-strength God gives.”
And the more we learn about how God works, the better prepared we’ll be for doing our work.
Each of these people knows how God works.
They know there is something beyond them that gives them the power to push on.
We just have to come to understand the power source and understand how to plug in.
My cousin was married Saturday and joins a long list of my friends and family members that made a commitment to another person this summer -- for the rest of their life.
I know her and her husband will face trials. They’ll face difficulties.
They may even wake up one morning wondering, “What if I hadn’t married this person? What if I remained single? What if I married Joe or Bob?”
But they’ve made a commitment for life.
And they both know they can’t stick it out for the long haul without the “glory-strength God gives.”
My dad’s mom told me on one of my last visits with her, “No matter what happens when you get married, you have to grit your teeth, push on and always remember the commitment you made to your wife -- ‘till death do us part.’ And you can’t do it alone. Your teeth will eventually wear out and you’ll have to depend on a source much greater than you to get you through the rough and tough times.”
“It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us.”
Life wears down on us, but it is God who gives us the power to take part in every wonderful, beautiful and amazing thing He has planned for us.
So don’t quit. Don’t give up and quit wearing your teeth out.
Give your problems up to someone much greater than you and let Him carry your burden so you can push on and see your task through to completion.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

A Hymn or Praise

When I was first beginning college in 1997, the modern praise and worship movement in the church was really beginning to first take off.
As a part of my church staff and a leader for the college group, I was part of a team that organized the Sunday evening worship services for the college and youth.
One of the key components we focused on each week was the message of the songs.
We weren’t concerned about they style or age of the song but rather the message.
I personally feel and I believe a large majority of my generation does as well, that if a song does lift up the name of Christ, then it is not we’ve lost the meaning of worship.
I don’t prefer a hymn or praise song because of its style or melody or the instruments used to play them (or lack there of), I prefer it because of its message.
You can’t deny the power of “How Great Though Art,” or its modern counterpart, “Shout to the Lord.”
If I come to church and sing about how hungry or thirsty I am I simply leave feeling hungry and thirsty. But if I come to church and sing about how wonderful, amazing and awe-inspiring our creator is, then I walk out of church ready to take on the world because I know He is there with me and I want more of Him.
I believe that many in my generation are seeing this more and more and I think our churches are missing the point.
Church services are geared and designed to attract the twentysomething crowd, yet they are putting the show before the substance.
We’re tired of the church as a whole offering up lyrically-empty songs and sermons that have no scriptural-meat to them, simply to cater to our generation and make people feel good about themselves.
A quick search through, which caters to the twentysomething crowd shows that we want “that old-time religion” that has meat and substance behind it and don’t need the fancy show that many churches put on.
We want to know how to live our faith out in real and relevant ways.
We love the hymns and we love the praise songs and we love the church as long as it’s real and not simply going through the motions.
Several people in my Sunday school class have come to me expressing their frustration with people in the church, including themselves, simply being fake.
The following is excerpts from a Relevant article, “What makes the church relevant?” by Karen Huber.
“As I sat in the pew Sunday, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well, maybe that was because there was so much going on visually. A power-point board scrolled the lyrics of the chorus. On the stage stood (well, actually swayed) a worship band which consisted of approximately 10 middle-aged men and women: one with a tambourine, another who whipped out a jazzy guitar solo, and the minister who sat at his piano with a boy-band microphone head-set urging us to get funky with the Spirit. Without ever opening a Bible, the service culminated in a sermon that pinpointed three simple rhyming biblical principles. On the most revered day of the week, I experienced the phenomenon commonly known as a “contemporary worship service” and I was embarrassed. The worst part was this was all done for my benefit – the typical twentysomething. Apparently, this was what my generation wanted.
“But this isn’t even about Generation X. Rather, it’s the need to make Jesus Christ, the Gospel and the Church relevant in today’s postmodern culture. But relevant for who?”
As we look at the future of the church, I pray that no matter what the style, whether its a hymn or contemporary -- praise band or acapella -- the message must always be put before the melody.
I pray that we will always put the substance before the delivery.
I pray that it will all bring us closer to Christ as we draw closer to each other and bring new people in. May we seek His face and may our face shine with His glory.
May people see us each Sunday and throughout the week and say as they did with Peter and John, “These men have been with Jesus.”

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Keeping Your Word

I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful 4th of July weekend.
And for those of you who had Monday off as well – I hate you.
Just kidding. No, seriously – I’m just kidding. Please don’t stop reading yet.
I enjoyed a great time on Saturday with a BBQ cooked for 15 people and eaten by only five.
I used to be really good at hosting and preparing parties and BBQ’s when I was in college.
But for some reason over the last year or so my planning has been a bit off.
I think I’ve discovered a problem that seems to be taking place in my generation and those that are following behind us – a reservation doesn’t mean what it used to.
And more importantly our word is no longer our bond.
Maybe I’m one of the few people of my generation who believe you should stay true to your commitments and true to your promises.
Maybe I’m one of the few people left who actually believe that if a person says they’ll show up or do something for me, they’ll actually do it.
Is it my trusting nature or just my ignorance?
I would love to put the blame on my parents’ generation -- a generation who began a downward spiral in neglecting their commitments made at the wedding altar.
I would love to say we’re not responsible for our “me first” attitude.
But I think we’re all responsible for our own actions – no matter what your shrink might tell you.
On a brief side note, I’m still waiting to see someone come on Jerry Springer and tell the world, “I’m a screw up. My parents were great, my grandparents were great, my school was great, my life was great – I just messed it all up. I’m the only one to blame.”
Quit blaming everyone else for your mistakes.
Ok, sorry about that tangent. Back to the topic at hand.
We as a generation must start taking responsibility for our actions.
We must realize that sometimes saying “No” is better than saying “Yes” and then neglecting to fulfill our promise.
If you tell your boss you’ll get a task done, get it done.
If you tell you friend you’ll call, return the call.
If you tell your girlfriend or your wife you love her, mean it.
It seems so simple, yet for so many, including myself, it has become so hard to do, yet sticking by your word goes a long way.

Far better not to vow in the first place than to vow and not pay up. – Eccl. 5:5

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Right is Dumb

Over the last few months I’ve come to believe something – the right is dumb.
Now before you start sending me hate mail, let me explain.
This isn’t a personal belief of mine; I believe it’s a belief of the misguided, far-left.
One of my favorite lines from the movie Spaceballs, and I think is rather fitting here is, “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”
Maybe it’s because they don’t have any real comebacks, or maybe it’s a genuine belief that if you’re part of the right wing conspiracy, you’re just a dumb, ignorant American.
You haven’t experienced the world like they have.
Since I began writing my column last year, I’ve received several letters accusing me of being completely wrong in my religious and political beliefs.
Now while I don’t mind you disagreeing with me, I have to laugh and completely ignore any point you might be making when you resort to saying I’m just a poor uneducated soul.
Am I uneducated just because I have a belief system different than yours?
Am I uneducated because I grew up in the church, or because I grew up in public schools, or because I attended a Baptist university?
What is it that makes me uneducated?
When I was a kid, there were a few comebacks that were the end-all-to-end-all.
When the argument got to these points, you knew it was about time to throw down -- mainly because both sides had run out of any logical arguments.
“Well you fight like a girl.”
“Yeah, well you’re stupid.”
Those are fighting words when you’re a kid.
Now I just laugh.
Texas Monthly’s headline article this month is entitled, “Texas vs. the world! Yes, they hate us. Should we care?”
If you haven’t seen it – go pick up a copy or visit
In the article, author Mimi Swartz points out that the same conservative, qualities that the world loved in J.R. Ewing (and still do) are the same qualities they loath in the leader of the today’s conservative right, President George W. Bush.
This past spring a television series entitled “The Texas Season” was broadcast in Great Britain on BBC Competitor, Channel 4.
While the show largely made fun of Texans, it also made fun of the values many Texans hold true to their heart.
An episode entitled, “Texas Teenage Virgins” mocked a group of Lubbock teens trying to adhere to Bush’s faith-based abstinence program.
“Having demonstrated that Texans were ugly, sexually repressed and bigoted, all that remained for the producers was violent. ‘The Texas Solution’ explored crime and punishment during Bush’s gubernatorial years,” wrote Swartz.
The narrator said Texans were big on forgiveness but low on mercy as they examined the death penalty and punishment in Texas.
Now as I read this article and thought about how Texas and many members of the political-right are looked upon as uneducated or too conservative -- it hit me -- I’ve done the same thing.
When my viewpoint on an issues tends to agree with the left (yes – it does happen sometimes) I’m quick to accuse those disagreeing with my viewpoint as being uneducated or living in a bubble their entire life.
“They don’t know what the real world is like,” I say. “They’ll wake up one day and realize that the world isn’t as perfect or as easy as they think it is.”
It’s easy to call someone names or make fun of their upbringing or belief system.
It’s easy to say someone is ignorant without offering a better suggestion of your own. The hard part is to sit down and discuss the issues face to face.
Someone once said, “Democracy is simply keeping the conversation going.”
But I guess we all stoop to the lowest common denominator when we run out of arguments.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Officially Godless

Last week members of the Southern Baptist Convention voted on a proposal calling for all Baptist parents to pull their children from public funded schools in favor of private religious schools or home schooling.
Thank God it was voted down.
I’ve been faced with this issue for a majority of my life.
I attended private school for two years before my parents wisely decided it would be best if my sister and I attended public school.
The private school I had attended was run by the non-denominational church we attended.
And the older I got, the more favoritism and partiality I saw given to the private school and its students.
Yet I think my mom, who has taught in public schools for 21 years, saw the favoritism turn into judgment more and more as the years progressed.
People in the church practically condemned public schools each week suggesting their school was the only choice for good Christian kids -- as if somehow attending a public school made you less of a Christian.
My mom would sit in Sunday school and listen to her classmates condemn the public system that she worked for and she had sent all three of her children to.
“The public schools are a failure,” they said. “Christians need to attend a private school where they can learn scripture and Biblical principles. Good parents send their students to private schools.”
Sunday after Sunday we heard propaganda for the private school, including from the pulpit.
I recall three large trophies sitting on the altar in front of the pulpit one week.
The trophies were in recognition for the school choir’s achievements at a regional contest.
Store up your treasures in heaven or on the altar?
It’s your choice.
This attitude eventually led to my family’s decision to leave the church.
The church they now attend is very involved in the public system through its individual members, all striving to make a difference.I'm very pleased that not all churches and certainly not all Baptist churches hold this view of retreating and leaving the public system.
I attended college for three years at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and rarely saw this one sidedness at the Baptist school.
I also attend a Baptist church where the upper grades of a non-denominational private school are taught.
I’ve been very pleased that I’ve never heard any mention of the school at church other than occasional questions during the quarterly business meetings.
Yet retired Air Force General T.C. Pinckney of Alexdandria, Va., and attorney Bruce Shortt of Spring, Texas think all Baptists should pull their children from public schools.
In addition to Pinckney and Shortt’s proposition, a statement denouncing "government schools" as "officially Godless" had been proposed by the Baptist Convention earlier this year.
That too was voted down in exchange for a watered down statement that warned “against the cultural drift in our nation toward secularism.”
You want to know why public schools are Godless?
It’s because Christians have pulled God out of our public schools
Good meaning Christians are pulling their children out of public schools left and right.
Most Christians simply have no spine – that is unless they’ve gathered to protest the latest movie or are chewing out the umpire at a church league softball game (am I harping on that issue too much?)
At the sight of trouble or problems we run away and start a Christian alternative, just so we don’t have to face the realities of the world around us.
We have our own schools, our own music, our own television stations, our own newspapers and our own media outlets. These all have a place and serve a purpose, and I'm thankful for them.
Yet we Christians were called to go into the world -- not create our own world inside a small Christian bubble.
We need to look at the examples of churches like Dr. Tony Evans’ church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship (OCBF), in Dallas.
Evans and his congregation offer a private school yet they have also not neglected the public schools around them.
OCBF has been a leader in faith-based reform both in the public schools and the community.
OCBF members visit two to three schools each week in the Dallas Independent School District mentoring and tutoring the students.
They’re taking time to show those around them the love Christ showed to them.
If we as Christians pull our children and families out of the public schools, who will be left?
The Christian influence is rapidly diminishing in the schools and elsewhere, yet we all ready to throw stones at the sinners living in the world around us.
Christian teachers are leaving, Christian administrators are leaving and Christian students are leaving.
Who is left to be a God fearing example?
Yes, its true our public schools are not the God fearing entities the private schools are, but what more would you expect when those who care about God and fear Him are no longer there.
Sinners will sin – I know because I’m one of them.
And without a Christ-like example how will they know any better?
Christ never expected the world to come to him. He went to them.
Denton Bible Church Pastor Tommy Nelson says he makes it a point each morning to work out a “secular gym” because with his busy ministry schedule, that’s the only contact he typically has with unbelievers. What contact will we have when we evacuate the world in search of the Christian alternative?
Christ hung out with the prostitutes, the tax-collectors, the thieves and criminals -- and He loved them all the same. Christ invited them into his inner circle rather than creating a Christian alternative.
They saw His love and accepted His message because He came to the point of their need, presented a message that was relevant to them and forgave them of their sins.
I believe that Christians who are afraid to be apart of the world and share Christ’s love with others are literally telling the rest of the world to go to hell.
Houston songwriter Seth Woods writes, “We read in the papers about the dealers and the rapers and the wars are being fought. We see those who are needy and give thanks to the banks that we’re not… We pass by the whores, the gays, the drunks in the doorways and we try to keep our eyes to the ground. We snicker at the lost and think man I’m so glad that I’m found.”
After all, someone had to tell me about Christ. Someone had to tell you about Christ. And someone needs to tell them about Christ. And how will we reach them if we never get to know them?

Scripture reassures us, "No one who trusts God like this--heart and soul--will ever regret it." It's exactly the same no matter what a person's religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. "Everyone who calls, "Help, God!' gets help." But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That's why Scripture exclaims, “A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!” --Romans 10:11-15 MSG

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Make Your Story Great

Over the past few months I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series.
As I read the “Horse and His Boy” this past weekend I was struck again by Lewis’ amazing use of symbolism and parallelism.
In Lewis’ third book of the series he writes about a young boy named Shasta -- who decides to leave home and run away to the northern land of Narnia.
Along the way, like most journeys, troubles come.
But near the end of his journey, Shasta meets Aslan the Lion.
Aslan the Great Lion, the Son of the Emperor-over-the-sea, the King above all Kings of Narnia.
Aslan listens to Shasta’s story and then tells him he was with him every step of his journey.
Those troubles that Shasta encountered and he thought was unfortunate were the same things Aslan used to spur him on and help him to grow along the way.
After hearing this Aslan asks about his friend and why she encountered the trouble she had.
Aslan replies, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but their own.”
I think we can apply this quickly to our own lives.
I can think of many times I asked God, “Why did you do this for me and not them?”
We always want to know why God treats us differently than everyone else.
Yet each time God responds, “Child, I am telling you your story, not theirs. I tell no one any story but his own.”
I want to know who, what when and why -- but God simply reminds me that He’s been there every step of the way and will continue to be there from now to eternity.
He also says, “Hey -- calm down and quit worrying about everyone else. Their story is their story and your story is your story. I’ll complete each one how I see fit.”
Alan Levi writes in his song, “Things that make the story mine,”
“I’ve been working on a 42-year story, acting out a role that’s unrehearsed. Though some scenes have been sweet some others have been gory, I’m wiser now than at the very first. Between my once upon a time and my happy ever after, no stunt man steps on stage to take my falls. No one else can cry my tears or laugh my laughter. This part gets played by me or not at all... It’s those parts I’d change, those lines I’d cut, those scenes I’d refine, those things I’d remove are the things that make the story mine.”
Enjoy your story.
Enjoy the tears and the laughter.
Take it one scene at a time and make it the best story you can. And let everyone else worry about their own.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

And They Will Know We Are Christians by our T-Shirts

I remember talking with a friend about the importance of putting a Christian fish on the back of his car. You know those shiny little silver fish that you can see on almost every car in the church parking lot.
He said he really needed to get one to as a conversation starter.
I then asked him, “How many conversations do you have flying down I-35 at 80 miles an hour?”
I’m not sure if he got my point or not. But it’s so easy to do what he wanted. It’s so easy to slap a bumper sticker on our car that says, “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.”
In other words, “I’m going to cause a 12 car pile up when the rapture takes place, so you better get saved or avoid me at all costs on the highway.” That really says love doesn’t it?
I heard of another bumper sticker that said, “In case of rapture, can I have your car?”
Now I’ll be the first to admit I have a closet full of Christian T-Shirts (I’m even part owner of a Christian T-Shirt company).
But most of the shirts I own are now worn to threads and mainly used for playing sports or doing work around the house.
But I still remember always wanting to wear the coolest Christian T-Shirts so everyone would know that I go to church and they could ask me how to get to heaven.
But you know what?
No one ever asked me. At least not when I was wearing my “If you’re living like there’s no heaven or hell, you better be right” shirt.
No, I never had one person read my shirt and say, “Please tell me how to get to heaven.”
But I’ve had people ask.
I’ve had people see that there was something different in my life and they wanted to know what it was.
That’s the personal witness that I believe Jesus lived out each day He walked on this earth.
Jesus was not about bumper stickers or T-Shirts. He wasn’t about catchy slogans. He also wasn’t about mega-church events to invite the sinners to. He was all about the one-on-one relationships.
In Luke 15 the Pharisees judge Jesus for his ministry. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” they said.
Jesus responded by telling two stories -- the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin. In each story Jesus turns the logic of the world upside down.
A shepherd leaves 99 sheep to find one. That’s ridiculous.
By the time he finds that one, it will be mauled and eaten by hungry wolves.
And by the time he gets back, wolves will have attacked the other 99 and be ready to attack the shepherd as well.
You don’t leave 99 sheep just to find one. Cut your loss and move on.
Then there’s the story of the woman with the lost coin.
When I get home at night I pull my coins out of my pocket and toss them on the dresser or in my coin cup.
I don’t count them, I don’t know how much money I’m pulling out of my pocket, I just toss the coins down.
And if I were to drop one coin on the floor, I’d spend maybe an entire three seconds looking for it. If I didn’t find it – who cares?
And if I did find it, in no way would I throw a party to rejoice with my friends. It would cost more to throw the party then the coin was worth.
The ideology behind these stories is ridiculous.
But Jesus is saying that that one person, that one coin is that important to Him. Rather than holding a big huge mega-event or crusade or party, He spent time with the one.
He left the crowds to go to Nicodemus’ house. He left the crowds to go to Zacchaeus’ house. He felt the touch of a lady in the crowd of hundreds and healed her.
He stopped his preaching in a packed house to heal a man lowered by his friends from the rooftop.
He ignored the crowds jeering Him on Calvary and made a connection with the theif hanging next to Him.
He was and is about the personal relationships and each individual soul. I think I (we) need to follow His example.
Our catchy slogans won’t lead anyone to Christ, but a personal relationship with our neighbor or co-worker will.
Letting them see the difference Christ has made in our life will be all the conversation starter we need.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Just a Comon Soldier (A Soldier Died Today)

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast, and he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done, in his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke, all his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away, and the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife, for he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way, and the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state, while thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young, but the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife, goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all, is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago, that the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know it was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys, who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand, would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend his home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin, but his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise, then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say, our country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.
This poem was first published in 1985 in Larry Vaincourt’s newspaper column and was then included in his 1991 collection, “Rhymes and Reflections.”

Thursday, May 27, 2004

An Open Letter to the Christian Sub-Culture

Dear Christian,
I hate to write this to you in such a public maner, but you’ve been making a fool of yourself in many public places.
I’ve seen you on Sunday mornings as you rush to find your seat in your favorite church.
I’ve seen you sing your songs of praise and proudly write your checks of duty.
I’ve seen you quickly duck out of church hoping no one will notice you or begin to question how your walk with God is.
I’ve also seen you proudly pray before your meals and I’ve seen you beg for help in times of need.
I’ve seen you wear your Christian shirts to school, work and the lake -- thinking that’s all it will take for your “weekly witnessing quota.”
You proudly wear your shirt declaring your devotion to Christ, yet you act like a fool in public.
You curse the umpires at your church softball game being sure they know that you’ve been wronged. But the only difference I see between you and them -- is their uniform actually means something.
I’ve even seen you slip on your Christian jewelry hoping it will make up for the wrongs you did yesterday.
You petition and boycott the FCC, Disney, the goverment and all the evils of society in hopes that you can bring about a reformation.
Because if Christ was here today, you know He would avoid anything and everything un-holy like the plague.
He would never stop and talk with the sinner. No! That would not be Christ-like.
I write all of this to say it’s time to wake up.
It’s time to start being known for your love -- not your shirt or jewelry.
It’s time to stoop down and reach out to those hurting and starving around you.
It’s time to check your attitude and maintain an attitude as that of Christ.
It’s time to stop bickering and nitpicking over a preference in music or an interpretation of theology (after all theology is simply man’s attempt to understand an incomprehensible God.)
It’s time to be a relevant example of Christ -- 24-7 and stop judging the sinners around you.
Because if I were “one of them,” I’d have given up and ignored you and “your Savior” a long time ago.
- Signed

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Love Endures All Things

This Saturday I will celebrate with my good friends Matt Dugan and Erin Parker as they join together in holy matrimony.
Now while I could give them lots of advice on starting a marriage, my 25 years of singledom probably don’t give me much credibility as a marriage counselor.
Last Saturday Matt called me to help him carry their new queen-size Sealy Posturepedic mattress home from the store.
So I met Matt at the store, loaded the mattress and box springs and we went on our merry way.
As we traveled along FM 93 I saw a flash of white in my rear view mirror.
I looked and sure enough, the brand new mattress had caught wind (I’m beginning to think FM 93 is cursed for me).
“Matt -- there goes your mattress!” I exclaimed.
We both watched in amazement as the mattress took flight into the wild blue yonder -- like a bird with wings.
Ok, so maybe it wasn’t quite that impressive -- but it did shoot seven or eight feet into the air before it came crashing down on it’s corner with a tremendous bounce and then settling in the middle of the road.
Thanks to quick reflexes by the driver of the Ford Explorer behind us, the mattress wasn’t completely toasted.
As we examined the mattress, we knew there was no way we could hide this accident from Erin. So we loaded the mattress back into the truck and slowly made the way home.
Needless to say, Erin wasn’t too excited to see their brand new mattress with pretty permanent tears and wrinkles in it.
I took my cue and left shortly after.
Talking with Matt later reminded me again of the importance of material things.
There is none.
A mattress is a mattress -- and as proven Saturday -- they don’t last forever, but their love for each other will endure.
To help ease the pain, I told Matt a story David told me about his wedding escapade.
As David and Anna registered for their wedding gifts at a fine retail store, the sales clerk promised them an extra nice gift from the store.
After the wedding, they went to make a few purchases remaining on their list and the sales clerk brought out a small white box.
She seemed very excited about the couples gift and opened a small white box to reveal an even smaller glass swan.
David and Anna looked at each other, not quite sure what to think.
And after they left the store they both laughed about their disappointment.
“We sure thought we’d be getting something super amazing from all the hype,” David said.
But amazingly with all the gifts that remain from their wedding, two things remain.
Their love -- and that small glass swan.
“I’ve broken most of our other gifts,” David said. “But the one thing we’ve always kept as the greatest remembrance of our wedding is that little swan.”
So to Matt, Erin and the rest of us -- sometimes the marriage, honeymoon, gifts and excitement are all super hyped and we get caught up in the emotion of the moment -- but in the end love is what matters and love is what endures.
Through the ups and downs, the sickness and health, love remains (and maybe a goofy story about the day we forgot to tie down your mattress).
So good luck to both of you and may your love endure above all else.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” - 1 Corinthians 13:13

Thursday, May 06, 2004

A Dis-Belief in Coincidences

I used to believe in coincidences.
But that was before I met Ann Tubbs.
Many people would say Ann’s life is full of coincidences – she believes differently and I can see why.
“Too many things have happened in my life for it to simply be a series of coincidences,” Ann said.
You see, Ann’s a chef by trade, but nearly five years ago she was forced to look at other possibilities when she was laid off.
“I sat at home confused as to what direction I should head,” Ann said. Not only had Ann been laid off, but her husband LaRon was also seeing a cut in hours as well. “After two weeks of feeling down for myself, I was sitting in front of my sewing machine and then I heard a voice as clear as daylight telling me ‘This is what you’re going to do.’ The voice was so clear I had to double check the house and make sure all the doors were still locked.”
Thinking she knew more than God, Ann saw this as a declaration that she was to open her own sewing business.
“I’ve always enjoyed sewing and making clothes and thought this would be a great opportunity to open my own store in Salado.”
But for the next year it didn’t matter what Ann tried, her business was not taking off as she had hoped. Without a designer label, the dresses didn’t sell.
She tried various avenues for selling her dresses, but the sales weren’t coming.
“I kept getting knocked down over and over again,” Ann said. “But even during that time, I kept taking the best dresses to local shelters. When I dropped them off, I’d say to myself, ‘Oh great -- now look what you’ve done. You gave away all your best dresses and now you don’t have any money for fabric, food or anything else.’”
Ann kept saving her money and buying material for new dresses all the while, imaging little girls playing and enjoying her dresses.
“I felt like I could easily sell these dresses for $70 to $100 anywhere,” Ann said. “But I continued to have an overwhelming peace and joy when I donated the clothes to the local shelters.”
Amazingly, as Ann continued to bring 20 to 30 dresses each time to the shelter she would be told that the dress sizes were exactly what the shelter needed.
“I remember vividly one occasion where I decided to create three identical dresses to take to the shelter,” Ann said. “I always made each dress unique, but I just had an urge to make three identical dresses. When I took the dresses to the shelter, they were amazed saying they had just received a request from a set of triplets in those sizes.”
Time after time Ann kept seeing these unique coincidences and continued to offer her dresses to the local shelters as well as groups taking mission trips to Mexico and Columbia. But as time wore on, so did the strain of no income.
So three years ago, Ann went back to work at Deli on the Square.
“I was working at the deli but whenever people asked what I did, I kept saying I have a dress and clothing ministry for children,” Ann said. “But working full-time limited what I could design drastically. I went from making 80 dresses a month to only 20.”
Then after almost four years of work, Ann was simply worn out.
“I was so tired,” Ann recalls.
She took nearly 150 patterns she had used over the last four years and dumped them all.
“I was frustrated and tired,” Ann said. “I had drawn nearly 99-percent of my patterns and I threw them all away. I thought, now I can focus on a regular job, with a regular salary and stop worrying about where the money comes from.”
Yet while Ann thought she had ended her ministry, through several more coincidences she realized this was only a beginning.
“I threw all my patterns away over the weekend,” Ann said. “And when I came to work Monday I was in the worst mood. I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to talk or deal with anyone. Then it hit me on my way home -- I had thrown away a four-year long passion and ministry.”
When Ann arrived home, to her amazement, the trash had not been picked up all day. She immediately jumped in the dumpster and began salvaging her patterns.
“It took some time, but I was able to find and repair each and every pattern.”
Since that day, Ann’s passion has been revitalized.
A letter from Columbia assured her again that she was doing the right thing.
“I’ve always strived to make my dresses durable so they could be washed and dry-cleaned without a problem, but I never imagined I was making them so substantial so that young girls at an orphanage in Columbia could wear their dresses and wash them in the river without them falling apart. The letter was like God was saying, ‘Good job, way to go.”
After Ann’s recommitment to her ministry she has come to a crossroads.
“God is asking me to step out of the boat and I’m horrified because I can’t swim,” Ann said. “I can’t clothe the world but I believe I can make a dent in Bell County.”
Her new recommitment also brought her in touch with new sources of funding and help.
After sharing her story with one or two Kiwanis, after their Tuesday morning meeting at the deli, Ann received several large financial donations as well as tags for her dresses and new business cards.
“It was amazing what God was doing,” Ann said. “I’m terrible at asking for help, but JoAnn Flowers and Pearl Fellingham continued to tell me, ‘Just tell your story and you won’t have to ask.’”
And now Lawyer George Dulany has donated his time to help Ann earn 501(c)3 status and has set up a charter and by laws for her ministry.
Then as a way of affirming everything, God assured Ann that He was in charge and she had no need to worry.
“One afternoon I was working in the deli just feeling worn and tired when a young girl looked and smiled at me as big as possible,” Ann said. “Her smile melted away all my troubles. I told her mother about my ministry and asked her if she would permit to make a dress for this precious girl.”
After exchanging phone numbers Ann designed a dress for Sara.
Ann had no clue who this family was but she wanted to give back a token of gratitude.
After exchanging the dress, Ann told her new friend about her ministry and as well as stories about her husband’s talent as a musician and producer.
As it turns out, Ann’s new friend had an interest in music as well.
Her husband, a doctor at Scott & White also had a music ministry and had recorded several CD’s that he gave to his patients for free.
After seeing the beautiful dress Ann made for his daughter, Dr. Steven Vold insisted on meeting the person who would make “such lovely dresses for someone they didn’t know.”
The Dr. Steven and Ann Vold invited Ann and LaRon to dinner where it was discovered that Dr. Vold was a glaucoma specialist for Scott & White.
After years of blindness in one eye, LaRon had begun to come to grips with the fact that he was also loosing sight in his other eye.
Upon learning this, Dr. Vold insisted that he could not allow LaRon to go blind.
Dr. Vold plans to re-evaluate LaRon’s case to see if there is something that can be done.
LaRon has also in-turn begun working with Dr. Vold on writing and producing new music at his home studio.
“All this happened through a baby’s smile.”
So Ann continues on designing and sewing outfits for children she may never meet and continues trusting in God’s faithfulness and ability to provide.
And you can say what you will about coincidences and fate, but as for Ann and I we believe in an easier solution – someone else is in full control.
For more information on Ann’s ministry, Threads of Hope, call (254) 947-5498.

“I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” – Matthew 25:26

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Why Waste Time Voting

Since working at The Belton Journal, I’ve noticed something that I don’t recall ever seeing to quite the extreme before.
Maybe it’s happened before and I simply have not been keen enough to realize it, but in Bell County and Belton we have seen a number of elections turned around (or attempted to) thanks to petitions and other means.
If one side is unhappy with the election we simply rally behind a petition to overturn the decision -- or we change things up and hold another election.
We’ve also seen a very disappointing turn-out at the polls, so apparently people continue to remain apathetic towards area issues.
So, with several elections coming up, I began to think of ways we could decide key issues without wasting our time or tax payers money. So here are my top-ten election alternatives.
10. Royal Rumble - Each side is allowed 15 contestants with a new contestant entering the wrestling ring every two minutes. Each contestant stays in the ring until they are thrown over the ropes by an opponent. The last man standing wins.
Advantage - Former Belton Journal Sports Editor Chris Allman. Although I’m not sure which side he would take on our current issues, but he’s probably the only one with any real “in the ring experience.”
9. Paper, rock scissors - A classic game used to pick sides, home team, who has to walk the dog or any other numerous decisions that are made around the world each day.
Advantage - Marion Grayson. She’s a package broker by nature, so she knows all about paper and scissors. And who knows, she may have packaged up some rocks before too.
8. Stare down - First person to blink, smile or twitch looses.
Advantage - Carrol Wallace and Corbett Finney. They’ve been standing fast and strong on lower taxes in Belton for as long as I’ve known them. I can’t see them budging at this game either.
7. Curling (County courts complex) - This is such an unusual (but cool) Olympic sport of sending a 42-pound rock down a lane towards a small target. And what other sport lets you use a broom to win?
Advantage - I don’t know that there would be a clear cut advantage in this game. With every issue people are skilled at sweeping damaging facts under the carpet, so it might just be a question of who get it done faster.
6. Quake Tournament - Why not give each side a chance to shoot and kill their opponent in a virtual computer game? Winner takes all.
Advantage - David Leigh. With his engineering degree from the University of Texas and his experience with technology and computers, he would be a sure fire win.
5. Dodge ball - This game always proved and decided who the real bullies on the block were.
Advantage - I think we all have our own opinions of who the biggest bully on the block is, but I’m going to give the advantage to the side with the most players. It’s a simple mathematical equation, whoever has the most players on the team usually wins.
4. Demolition derby - This one should really attract the general public with the car crunching sounds of cars piling up everywhere.
Advantage - Dwayne Digby. As a car salesman he should have no problem getting the biggest, baddest, toughest diesel truck possible. He’ll be able to crunch the competition to shreds.
3. Slam dunk contest - Every one is given a shot to wow the crowd with their style and grace.
Advantage - John Galligan. With his experience as a Judge Advocate General, Galligan knows how to wow a jury and crowd with is style and finesse, in and out of the courtroom. I’m sure he can do the same on a basketball court as well.
2. Slip and slide - First one down the slippery mat wins.
Advantage - Me. At 6’5” I have a definite height advantage. I can outstretch even the best of them. Also, I’ll be willing to shave my head again to cut- down on any drag created by extra weight around my waist line. Of course that means I decide everything for Belton and become supreme ruler.
1. Re-vote - Since no one is ever really happy with the outcome of elections in Belton, (and people will be ready to petition me out of office in a month) let’s just hold a new election every month for city council, commissioners court, school board and any other pressing issues. How about best three out of five wins?
My name is Jonathan Blundell and I have approved this column.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

When Greed Takes Over

Last November I told you of a rare experience -- my truck running out of gas.
Now I have to admit, this rare occurrence is becoming a little less rare after this past Sunday.
As I headed to church early Sunday morning, I noticed my truck was sitting well past the empty marker -- again.
In my rush to church I decided against re-filling my gas tank to insure I had plenty of time to set up for our sunrise service.
And unfortunately, gas tanks don’t re-fill on their own.
So when I didn’t stop to get gas on the way home, I couldn’t complain too much when my truck coasted to a dead stop between Midway and 6th Ave on I-35.
And like last time, I had plenty of time to reflect on my current situation while I waited for help to arrive.
It struck me as I sat, that in both instances, it wasn’t really a lack of time or a lack of money that led my truck to running out of gas. The real issue at hand was greed.
In both instances my boss had promised to give me a free tank of gas for helping him with a few side projects.
And in both instances, I decided to wait and run my truck empty, rather than risk loosing the chance to get a few extra gallons of gas for free.
Those few extra gallons I could have bought to get me through the weekend cost me a lot more time and effort than they ever would have if I hadn’t let greed take over.
It's sad when I think of how often each of us get caught up with greed.
Sometimes its greed for a few extra gallons of gas, sometimes its greed for time alone or time with someone else and sometimes its greed for power, money, wealth or fame.
Whatever the greed is based on, it’s never really worth it.
Take Tolkien’s story, “The Lord of the Rings” as an example.
Throughout Tolkin’s book and the recent blockbuster movie trilogy, everyone must face their own issues with greed and their desire for the power that comes with The Ring.
For some it leads to murder, for some it leads to a life of addiction, and for others it leads to worry and pain and suffering but in the end everyone must face their own issues or they will be overcome by them.
In life we all face similar temptations.
The chance for more money, more power, more fame or more gas in your gas tank can easily ruin you.
The desire for more can bring your truck from a blazing 75 miles per hour to a complete stop alongside I-35.
The desire for more can ruin your reputation, your career and many times relationships with friends and family.
In Matthew 19, we can read the story of a rich young man.
The man comes to Jesus asking what he must do to be saved.
He tells Jesus he has followed the commandments and asks, “What now?”
“If you want to give it all you've got,” Jesus replied. “Go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”
That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crestfallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn't bear to let go.
As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God's kingdom? Let me tell you, it's easier to gallop a camel through a needle's eye than for the rich to enter God's kingdom.”
The rich young man let greed stand in the way of entering the kingdom of heaven.
We can look back and judge him or we can learn from the lesson and realize that we do the same thing everyday.
Not only am I greedy with my gas, but I’m also greedy with so many other things as well, including my time.
Like many other things, my time is my time and I want full control of it.
I don’t want someone else trying to tell me how I can or can’t spend my free time.
I’m also constantly having to remind myself to give my daily “tithe” of time back to God.
Like I mentioned last week, He desires to spend time with us. He doesn't want to simply be a light switch we turn on and off in our time of need.
He wants to be first and foremost in our lives and I know He deserves that and so much more.
So let’s remember to give generously of our gifts, money, time, power and love not only to God but too each other as well.
And let greed be a thing of the past.

“A greedy and grasping person destroys community; those who refuse to exploit live and let live.” - Proverbs 15:27.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

When Did God Become a Light Switch

This Sunday people all around the country and around the world will flock to their local churches.
Some will be members, some will be visitors, some will simply be curious about this man they call Jesus Christ.
It’s not a new phenomenon.
People always have a tendency to flock to church on Easter and Christmas Sundays.
But why? Why do these two days deserve recognition over others?
Yes, I know the history.
I’m not doubting the importance of Christ’s birth and Christ’s resurrection.
After all, without these two crucial events, my entire faith would be void.
So, the events they celebrate are very important. But what about next Sunday, or the Sunday after that?
Why do they not deserve the extra time and effort it takes to wake up and get dressed on Sunday mornings?
Is it because we know on Easter and Christmas the pastor’s message will be a little more fine tuned?
Is it because we know the choir and musicians will have practiced a little more during the week for the big service?
Or is it because we’ve turned God and our worship of God into something it shouldn’t be?
Like usual, I’ll go with the later suggestion.
Now I’m not just purposely stepping on the toes of those who only attend church once or twice a year, or even once a month.
I’ve need to remove the plank in my eye before I even attempt to remove the speck in yours.
I’ve managed to turn God into a light switch that I can turn on and off whenever I want.
Finances getting tight? Turn on the supernatural God switch and watch miracles work.
Family member sick? Turn on the miraculous God switch and watch people healed of their disease.
Want to watch the latest movie that everyone’s talking about? Turn off the amazing God switch and watch my conscious disappear.
Want to flip off that driver that just cut you off? Turn off the forgiving God switch and swear away.
It sometimes becomes habitual. Turn the God switch on and Sundays and turn it off as soon as you walk out the doors.
After all, growing up, my dad always taught me to save electricity and turn off the lights whenever I walked out of a room.
I don’t want to wear God out and force Him to work overtime, so I’ll just give Him Monday through Saturday off.
He can make everyone else feel guilty when they mess up.
So we turn off the God switch and forget about Him.
But I’m glad that just like a light switch, He still remains ready to provide His power when we ask.
He was ready and waiting before we even knew of Him and His power.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1, “Long before He laid down earth's foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by His love. Long, long ago He decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we're a free people--free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”
Does that not excite you?
God provided everything we could possibly need and then let us in on His plans.
But we’d still rather ignore all of that so we can have freedom to do what we want without a guilty conscious.
I have several friends, who because of our busy schedules, it’s difficult to get together and hang out. Yet when they call I can almost guarantee one thing – they want probably want something.
Probably like my parents could almost guarantee I wanted something whenever I would do extra chores or start being extra nice to them and my sisters.
It’s not that I mind helping my friends, after all that’s what friends are for, but their friendship means so much more when they call just to see how I’m doing or call to grab a coffee, see a baseball game or call to go enjoy a triple scoop Rocky Road ice cream cone.
And I think that God feels the same.
Paul continues in chapter two, “It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then He picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.”
Don’t let the world tell you how to live. We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it OK.
Don’t let them convince you to turn your light switch off.
In fact, during this Easter season, lets all remove that switch and hard-wire our connection to God and make sure that nothing else gets in and shorts the most important circuit of all.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Last and Final Word

It’s been said before that all pastors and evangelists really only have two or three sermons that they constantly recycle in numerous ways each Sunday.
I wonder if the same can be said of columnists and writers. Sometimes I feel like I’ve said everything in my column at least once before in some form or fashion.
Maybe it’s something in our subliminal psyche that causes us to dwell on certain things until there’s nothing left to recycle. It’s kind of like David Tuma and Belton Tiger Football. He’ll dwell on it and recap it and tell the great stories over and over until there’s just no one listening. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger fan of the boys in red or any color for that matter.
So subliminal psyche or not, for the past six months or so I’ve been dwelling on the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s still such an amazing gem in my mind.
And as I mentioned earlier in the year, it’s also been the topic of discussion for the Single’s class I teach at church.
I really don’t know if they’ve enjoyed the study like I have, but as we wrapped up our 3 month study of the book, it was sometimes hard to contain my excitement as I shared the nuggets of wisdom King Solomon concluded his masterpiece with.
They may have all been glad to get rid of the book once and for all. After all, sometimes it feels like Solomon only has one or two messages that are recycled with new points and illustrations throughout the book.
So in case any members of my class missed it, or in case you’re interested, I’m going to recap our 3 month study in the next 1,500 words or so.
Point one: When bad things happen, they are still under the complete control of God.
That’s a tough nugget to swallow. After all, doesn’t God love everyone? And isn’t God good? If that’s all true then how can God be in control?
In 1947 Simon Wisenthal formed an organization to find and prosecute Nazi war criminals. He and his organization tracked down more than 1,000 war criminals in a 40-year period. He was passionate about his calling. During the last three years of World War II, the Nazis killed 89 members of Wisenthal’s family.
But even more astonishing was the evil Wisenthal saw in the concentration camps. One day two Nazi officers drove into a camp and grabbed two Jewish men and stood them back to back. Then the officer pulled out his gun and shot through one man’s head and into the other.
The officer told his fellow Nazi, “See, I told you we’ve been wasting 50-percent of our bullets.” Wisenthal later said, “God is on leave.”
Throughout Ecclesiastes Solomon stresses that he has seen the insanity of life and in all of the insanity, God has rigged life so that we must trust Him even though life doesn’t make sense.
If we look further along in scripture, into the New Testament, we see the ultimate atrocity.
God sent his Son to earth so that God could be revealed to man in a personal way.
His Son, Jesus Christ, lived the perfect life.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Yet even though Christ lived the perfect life, He was led to sacrifice His body in the worst possible way, crucifixion.
Doesn’t seem to fair to me.
Christ, the only man without sin, bore the full wrath of God against sin.
Yet God was in control. In the midst of His suffering, Christ calls out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Christ knew who was in control. Moments later, Christ raises His voice again and says, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
When the bad times come, we must realize God is still in full control.
Point two: When bad things happen, you better check your attitude towards God.
This is another hard one for me. When bad things happen to me, I want to find someone to blame. And who better to blame than the guy in charge? After all, isn’t it His fault these things are happening?
Yet if we look at Christ, we see that He knew His place. He never grumbled about His suffering. He accepted it as God’s will.
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” Jesus pled in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Yet not as I will, but as Thou will.”
Powerful words.
Paul reminds us in Romans that “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
That’s good advice, but I’ve always found that it’s much easier to teach than believe.
I can tell a friend 20-million times that, “All things work together for the good,” but the moment the bad stuff happens to me, it’s not so easy to accept. So we must check our attitude.
Point three: Don’t wait for God to reveal your future. Obey God and follow your heart.
Have you ever played Ouiga Bible? Ask a question, pick up your Bible and point to a random verse to find your destiny.
It might be a fun game to play at parties. But God’s not normally going to give you a mystic sign or tell you your fortune with scripture. He doesn’t expect us to sit in the lotus position and make decisions based on a mystical feeling.
It’s been debated as to the exact extent of Jesus’ knowledge while He was on earth. But it is clear that he limited His knowledge to some extent (Mark 11). And yet he walked forward confidently into the future. He was absolutely certain of His Father’s love and control in His life.
He followed God and His desires and let the chips fall where they may. Paul did the same thing. His passion was to visit Rome. It wasn’t until he was arrested, shipwrecked and bitten by a snake in Malta that he finally made it to Rome. He finally fulfilled his dream but it wasn’t the way he wanted to go about it.
God will get you to His destination. Along the way you may have to go through some rough times that force you to trust Him, but He’ll walk alongside you and guide you the whole way.
So live boldly. Let the chips fall where they may and let God be the God of grace. (I wish I could continue on with this point, but my editor only gives me a limited amount of space.)
Point four: Bad things happen to everyone, not just those who don’t have enough faith.
Jesus had more faith than anyone, yet Jesus had bad things happen to Him. As I’ve written before, Johnny Christian doesn’t always score the touchdown and Paul Pagan doesn’t always fumble the ball. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.
Trusting God does not mean we’re exempt from trouble, it simply means we should realize there is an ultimate purpose to our suffering.
Point five: Christians should have the most fun.
During Christ’s three years of public ministry we only have a brief glimpse of his day to day life. Yet six times he was accused of eating and drinking with outcasts or simply having too much fun.
One of my favorite representations of Christ in film is in the Matthew Series produced by The Visual Bible.
Christ is seen over and over again laughing with His disciples. He is seen cutting up and pouring water over someone sleeping during His Sermon on the Mount. He had joy.
Christ knew that life was a blessing and that He should enjoy every moment of it. His life was focused on three main points, building relationships, loving people and bringing people back to God.
Matthew 9 tells of Jesus being accused of not holding to the strict standards of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. “Then John's disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.’”
Why pout and be a downer. Christ is here. The Messiah has come. Have joy.
Howard Hendrix said the face of many Christians belong on the cover of the book of Lamentations. Why be downcast?
Jesus had fun and joy because His life and heart overflowed from the relationship He had with His Father. Find something you enjoy, something fun, and give yourself over to it with your whole heart. Know that life and laughter is a gift from God.
Point six: Do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.
Jesus was loyal to His Father no matter what pain it brought. Realize that God will determine the outcome. We can do nothing to change that. It’s our job to walk faithfully with Him along the way.“Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
Finally. The last word.
Point seven: The Bible is our ONLY reliable source for knowing God.
The entire Bible was written to bring us to one point. The purpose of the Old Testament is to show the need for a Messiah. The purpose of the Gospels is to reveal who the Messiah is. The purpose of Acts is to show the power of His message. The Epistles (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Phillipians and all the way through Jude) show us exactly what He did and how we should live.
Finally Revelation tells us He’s coming back.
Solomon concludes the book of Ecclesiastes in the best possible way. “The last and final word is this: Fear God. Do what he tells you. And that's it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it's good or evil.”
To fear God is to know God.
And the only way to do that is to know His word. The Bible is God’s written Word to us.
It’s our instruction manual. So to know scripture, is to know Him. Apply scripture to your life daily.
Jesus used scripture to overcome temptation and to defeat Satan. He used it to comfort. He used it to answer those in authority. He knew the Word of God was a reliable source of truth in which we can entrust our entire life.
If we devote ourselves to scripture we will become more like Christ.
We will stand strong when the bad days come and when the suffering comes.
And we will laugh and find joy in the life God gives us day to day.
So there you have it. Three months rolled into under 2,000 words. If you really want to get into Ecclesiastes I recommend the book a majority of my studies were based on, “The Problem of Life With God,” by Tommy Nelson and published by Tommy Nelson Publishers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Ignorance of Law is no Excuse

When I attended college at The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, there was one man that you always wanted to stay on good terms with.
Now granted, there were a number of people like that.
You always wanted to have a good relationship with your professors, Dr. Bradley, Dr. Loutherback and of course the president himself, Dr. Bawcom.
But one man always stood out.
This man not only enforced the law set by the previously mentioned, wonderful, fabulous administration, but was also the man who had the power to dismiss those annoying parking tickets.
This man was also in charge of those annoying police officers whose only mission in life is to keep students from having fun.
OK, so maybe that’s not really their goal.
But when you’re a crazy college student who wants to pull a prank, like hanging a Chet Edwards, D-Waco, sign upside down on Heard Hall, or filling Richard Muskee’s car with confetti and old smelly cat food, the campus “po-po” were no fun.
And UMHB Police Chief Gary Sargent was the man in charge..
His authority made students shake in their boots.
But fast forward almost a year and your opinion of a man can easily change.
Don’t tell this to any UMHB students, but even with 17 years on the police force at Baylor University and six years with the UMHB force, Gary isn’t as tough as you may assume.
He has a real heart of gold.
After moving one of his daughters to Alabama and marrying off his youngest daughter last year, Gary and his wife Dianna, a nurse at Sparta Elementary looked at their empty nest and began to make plans to enjoy the rest of their lives.
“After we moved my youngest daughter to Houston, I knew what I was going to do for Spring Break this year,” Gary said. “I began making plans to head to Disney World.”
While Gary was looking forward to a relaxing spring break in Florida, he began to get a different tug on his heart.
Not knowing where this tugging was leading, he began to consider seminary and he and Dianna enrolled in a Christian Leadership course at UMHB.
Then in February, Sargent found his passion.
“I was scrolling through the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) website looking at various opportunities and I finally came across an article for Mission Corp Volunteers and their work in Harlan County, Ky.,” Gary said. “I saw the story of a pastor who had given up a six-figure income to return to Lynch, Ky. and work in one of the poorest cities in the state, with no guarantee of a salary. That’s when God began to lay the people of Lynch on my heart.”
Lynch was once one of the wealthiest cities in Kentucky until the coal mines closed down and left the town broke and busted. Today Lynch is one of the poorest cities in Kentucky.
Harlan County is one of the most severely distraught counties in Kentucky. 13,000 of the county’s 36,000 live in poverty. Unemployment and poverty rates are 150 percent more than the U.S. average. In the 50 county area of the Appalachian ministry, 51,097 households have an annual income of less than $10,000 with 48-percent of those incomes less than $5,000 a year. 16,691 housing units have no water source; 25,885 households do not have vehicles; and 26,116 can’t afford a telephone. The absence of transportation and the physical isolation create serious accessibility problems for health care and emergency situations. The fight for survival has left many exhausted, bitter, and hopeless.
With a new direction, Gary and Dianna began 10-8 Ministries.
The ministry takes its name from code used by police departments across the county.
10-8 simply tells dispatch that the officer is in service and ready for further directions.
“We’re still learning about God’s direction each day,” Gary said. “But above all, we want to tell God, ‘We’re in service waiting for further directions.’”
After contacting the missionaries serving in Lynch, Gary and Dianna knew their plans for Spring Break were to be changed and they began planning a needs assessment trip.
And last week, with the donations from Immanuel Baptist Church in Temple, Academy First Baptist and UMHB, Gary and Dianna packed up their Explorer and a trailer full of food and headed to Lynch.
“I was worried we wouldn’t be able to fill our Explorer,” Gary said. “But we had over 1,800 pounds of food.”
The Sargents were also able to provide a bullet-proof vest for the town’s chief of police as well as a check for $1,000 from the donations.
“In Lynch and Harlan County you see pure hopelessness,” Gary said. “But with a little ray of hope you see amazing rays of change.”
God also laid a vision on his heart for the community of Lynch.
On Feb. 2, Gary wrote in his journal that he felt God calling him to raise $100,000 to help with community revitalization.
Not only was Gary to raise $100,000, but he felt God instructing him to raise it $10 at a time.
“The idea of raising $100,000 didn’t seem like a simple task,” Gary said. “And the idea of raising it $10 at a time was an even larger task. But I believe this is God’s way of proving that He’s in control and I can trust Him wherever He leads.”
Other visions that the Sargents have laid on their hearts, is to purchase a house for missionaries working in the area. They also hope to be able to provide computer equipment for the local teen center along with software to help with literacy and computer training.
Gary said he won’t take anymore than $10 from any one person.
“It’s a huge task, but God will provide,” Gary said. “If people choose to donate more it will go towards the purchase of the house, food or other needs. Otherwise the $10 will go directly to the $100,000 goal for community revitalization.”
Gary and Dianna are planning another trip to the area this summer and hope to bring another load of food and computers with them.
While the Appalachian people are heavy on their hearts, Gary doesn’t believe 10-8 Ministries will move them to the Kentucky Mountains.
He believes the ministry will help raise funds and awareness for other ministries around the country, like the Mission Corp Volunteers. He says he hopes to duplicate the plan and results in other areas around the county like the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“As a police officer, one of my favorite sayings is ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse,’” Gary said. “God told me, ‘Ignorance of the situation in Harlan County is no excuse. Do something!’”
And now you know too.
Donations to 10-8 Ministries can be brought to the UMHB Police Dept. or mailed to 10-8 Ministries, P.O. Box 1755, Belton, TX 76513.
For more information on Gary’s ministry visit:

Thursday, March 18, 2004

If God Can Use Donkey

In the 22nd chapter of the book of Numbers, there is an interesting story of God using a donkey to speak to Baalam.
Sometimes it takes those odd situations to really wake us up to what God wants to tell us.
A few weeks ago I told you of the theological lesson I learned from George Carlin (Isn’t it just stuff?). I thought that was a little weird, but then I learned a few more lessons this past week from the coolest pup in the world, Payton.
OK so maybe he isn’t really a puppy anymore. He might jump and run around like a hyper puppy, but his size doesn’t match up anymore.
Anyways, a week or so ago, I was out taking Payton - the Coolest Dog in the World, out for a walk around Belton.
Now Payton’s a well behaved dog when he wants to be, or when he knows he’s about to get a swat on the nose, but there’s other times where he just wants to run and do his own thing.
Unfortunately for me, this was one of those times.
With his harness on, I led him down Wall Street and 7th Street and Main Street and elsewhere.
Knowing he was harnessed and on a short leash, Payton - the Coolest Dog in the World, continued to do everything he could to break free from my grip. All he cared about was taking off after the latest smell that caught his attention.
I knew that if he got away something horrible could happen, especially as he tried to chase every car passing on Main Street.
It struck me then how similar Payton and I are.
Now I don’t necessarily think of myself on a short leash, but I do think of God walking beside me and guiding me every step of the way and yet I’m still ready to chase after anything that catches my fancy.
I want to chase the things of the world that can hurt and lead me down the wrong path, yet God holds on tight while He watches and guides me.
Another lesson I learned from Payton - the Coolest Dog in the World, came Friday night after I moved into my new house.
I had the crazy idea to start house- training Payton, now that I had a house of my own and didn’t have to worry about an upset landlord.
First off, bad idea.
Payton’s too big and too hyper to be a house dog.
And as I mentioned before, he loves to run and chase after anything that catches his fancy, so the moment the front door was open, out he went.
No rules or boundaries for this dog.
He was gonna have fun scouting out the new neighborhood.
As much as I wanted to chase him down in the sprinkling rain, I chose not to.
I decided to let him venture out on his own and let him find his way home.
I left the front door open and went about my business.
About 20 minutes later, after he apparently took a swim in Nolan Creek, Payton - the Coolest Dog in the World, came walking back in the front door like nothing had happened.
And I just loved on him and dried him off before telling him to stay off the furniture.
It reminded of another Biblical story, the story of the prodigal son.
Jesus tells the parable of a rich man with two sons.
Two sons he loved dearly and planned to give his entire inheritance to.
One day the younger son came to his father and asked for his estate.
I’m sure the father wanted to hold on to his son with a very short leash and keep him from harm, but he divided up the inheritance and sent the youngest son on his way.
The son lived life as he pleased, chasing after everything that caught his eye.
Before long, he ended up living with and feeding a farmer’s pigs and wanted to go home.
So he returned home seeking his father’s forgiveness, hoping he could find better work by working for his father.
But to his surprise, his father didn’t scold him or belittle him. He welcomed him with arms wide open.
I’m sure glad Jesus told that story and I’m glad Payton reminded me of it.
No matter what I do and no matter how far I stray from God’s hand, His arms and His door is always open.
He doesn’t make me clean myself up. He does that for me. All I have to do is come home and let the Master of the House clean off the dirt and filth I’ve collected along the way.