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.