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.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Warning: I’m on a soap box today.
So the primary election has come and gone. We’ve made our decisions and declared who we want to represent us in the November election and in some cases, declared who we want to give the job to.
Or did we? I know I did.
But what about you? Chances are very high that you didn’t.
Because as you may have read on the front page, only 8.5-percent of the registered voters in Bell County voted. That means 128,107 registered voters did not vote. What percentage were you?
It may not seem like a big deal to most people, but it’s very sickening to me.
A nationwide study released on Tuesday showed that only 7.2% of registered voters had voted in the primaries before Tuesday’s elections in Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana.
So, congratulations Bell County, we beat the national curve, but I’m not applauding.
Two of my cousins have spent time in the Middle East protecting my freedom and giving freedom to people who have never had the opportunity to taste it. One is still there.
Over 500 young Americans have died in Iraq so that a people they’ve never met can go to their polls and elect a president.
These fine American soldiers fought and died so that a ruthless dictatorship could be overthrown and our country could sleep securely at night.
Yet in the midst of a world war and in the midst of a heated presidential election, as a county we only sent 12,373 people to the polls.
That’s less than the population of Belton.
Now granted, I love Belton. I don’t want to live anywhere else. In fact I’m buying a house in Belton.
But if I lived in Temple, or Harker Heights or Killeen or anywhere else in Bell County, I wouldn’t like it one bit if the citizens of Belton began making decisions for me and deciding who would represent me and who would stand up for my concerns.
Who are they to decide my representation? Would you let a stranger off the street pick a lawyer to represent you in a major lawsuit?
I know I wouldn’t. I want to take time to choose my representation.
In the process of buying a house I didn’t walk into it blindly.
I chose my representation. I talked with people. I took several opinions and looked at my options.
And because of that I’m super pleased with the work Terri Covington and Matt Wood have done. I couldn’t have asked for a better job.
I want the best possible representation I can get whenever I can get it.
I want someone I can trust handling my business.
And if they’re not doing a good job, rather than sit around and complain, I’m going to fire them.
I’m not going to walk up to a phone book and play “Ouiji directory” and you shouldn’t either.
Now of course I’m not saying all this to say that every other realtor in Belton is bad, or every other mortgage company is bad. I found my preference. I chose it, was pleased and stuck with them.
When it comes to electing our public officials, we each have a choice.
In May we have the opportunity to select our representation for city council and school board. In November we have the opportunity to choose the leader of the free world.
Don’t let some stranger come and steal your right to choose our country’s leadership.
Five minutes can change the course of history.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

What Shall I Do With This Man

Before we delve into this week’s column I want to begin with a quote.
And I want you all to really think about it.
Hopefully, if I’ve done my job, it’ll tie in well at the end.
So here we go.
“A human life has value to God wherever it lives and we’re not being let off the hook with geographical location being an excuse for somebody’s life to be wasted.”
Ok, now you might want to read that a few more times, but we’ll continue.
As you already know (unless you do truly live in a cave), Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, was released in theaters last week.
Now I wasn’t planning on writing about this movie, but as Gibson said, “I couldn’t not do it.”
I saw the movie Friday night and I’ll admit --it’s violent, but it is an amazing work of art.
I recommended to my mom that she waits for it to come out on DVD so she can pause or fast forward through it.
But beyond the violence and beyond the controversy there is a question that I believe needs to be answered.
It’s the same question that was asked nearly 2000 years ago by Pontius Pilate.
“What should I do with Jesus, the one called the Christ?”
As you watch The Passion of the Christ we see numerous accounts of what others have done with Jesus.
Of course we have his disciples. The 12 men who have give up three years of their life following Him.
Yet as we see from the opening of the movie, they have trouble keeping watch and praying with him.
We also have Judas Iscariot, one of the 12.
A name that has become synonymous with “traitor.”
In the Passion and in the Gospels we see that Judas struggles with this question of Pilates.
We see that he is willing to give up his friend, companion and teacher for a mere 30 pieces of silver.
In hindsight, I look back and can’t believe he would betray The Christ for something that small and that futile -- yet, I look at all the things in my life that I’ve betrayed Christ for and realize I’ve done it for much less.
But Judas and I aren’t alone.
Another disciple turned his back on Jesus in a crucial moment.
Peter denied he knew Christ three times after The Christ’s arrest.
How many times have I denied my faith or my walk with Christ in order to stay “out of trouble?”
How many times have I backed down from a chance to be a witness in hopes that someone might like me more?
I can easily claim to be a Disciple of Christ or a Child of God on Sundays, but what about Wednesday or Friday or Saturday night?
Who’s child am I claiming to be then?
Another character in The Passion of the Christ, that Gibson took some artistic license with, was Simon of Cyrene.
There is only a brief mention of Simon in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, but I enjoyed the scenes Gibson added with Simon.
As you see in the movie (theologians upset with Gibson’s straying from the Gospels please bear with me), Simon was a member of the crowd.
He simply came to see the show until he was made to become a key player on the Via De La Rosa (The Way of the Cross).
Simon was very reluctant to get involved.
He didn’t want to cause trouble. He didn’t want to be associated with this man, The Christ.
Yet when he looked upon the face of Christ he was changed.
Like Moses talking to God on the mountainside -- looking upon God changed his entire appearance.
As he struggled to carry the cross of Christ to Golgotha he changed. He knew that this man was no ordinary man. He knew that this man was special.
Perhaps he had been a part of the crowd on Passover.
Making a huge fanfare about this new man riding into town.
Perhaps he had been with Jesus in Gailee when Jesus had taught.
Perhaps he was even caught up in the frenzy of a mob that hollered for Pilate to crucify Jesus.
We don’t know.
But in Gibson’s version of the story, we can see that no matter what his past was, he was a changed man after his face-to-face encounter with The Christ.
He couldn’t not change.
Like Gibson has said in a number of interviews, The Passion of the Christ was a story he had to tell, because of the difference it made in his life.
And the Passion of my Christ is a story I must tell as well, because of the difference it’s made in my life – yet so often like Peter, or Judas – I betray my Savior for measly things on this earth.
Very quickly, let’s go back to the quote I gave you at the beginning of the column, “A human life has value to God wherever it lives and we’re not being let off the hook with geographical location being an excuse for somebody’s life to be wasted.”
Any guesses on who said this?
Does it matter? That quote should hit each of us between the eyes.
The man who said this knows what Christ has done for each of us.
He knows what Christ has called each of us to do.
He knows that following Christ means it should make a difference in our lives.
We should care and love for everyone around us not as a suggestion from Christ, but as a commandment of Christ.
We should be willing to go at the drop of a hat to Asia or Africa or Russia if we are called.
We should be willing to give up a Saturday to help build a house for someone in East Temple with Habitat for Humanity.
We should be willing to give up a lunch break once or twice a month to help hand out food and clothes to the needy with Helping Hands.
We should love our fellow man, because He gave us the ultimate example of love.
“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.”
I admire friends of mine, who are ready and waiting to head to the mission field. They realize that God’s love knows no geographic bounds. They have examined Pilates question and said, “This is what I shall do with Christ.”
May God bless them abundantly on their journeys.
And while I and many of you don’t yet feel God’s call to a foreign country, may we do everything here in Belton, TX to share God’s love.
May we examine each day, “What should I do with Jesus, the one called the Christ?”
Is it just a fad we’re apart of – or has he made a true difference in our life?
And for those of you who might be reading this column and wondering what is all this fuss about Jesus about – I’d be amiss if I didn’t offer this phone number to you: 1-888-Need-Him.
It’s simple, it’s free and they will be happy to answer any questions you might have about this man they call the Christ.
Or e-mail me – I’d love to show you what He has done for me.