Tuesday, January 03, 2017

You Can Always Go Home

Riley turned 16 Saturday. The Department of Finance and Administration issues driver's licenses but they were closed until today because of the holiday. We tried to get his license BEFORE his birthday but couldn't; he had to be 16. So we waited.

He also had to get shots for his 16th birthday - a requirement for school - and that was scheduled for this morning. On the way home from the health department we stopped at the revenue office and got the license. The lady taking the picture made him smile. He thinks he looks like a clown. I say that's better than looking like a criminal.

Then when we got home Riley loaded his Yukon and drove to school. Without ME!




For 12 or 13 years he's had either me or his mother with him on the way to school. Until recently, his mother or I was the driver. Transitioning to the passenger on these trips was hard enough. Now I had to stand in the driveway…alone…while he drove away…alone.

But we've practiced and prepared for this day. The last two years have been everything from frustrating to joyful. We should have been ready for today. From the technical perspective of driving a car, I guess we are ready. It's the emotional part you really can't prepare for.

One of Riley's older brothers wasn't eager to get his license. I asked him why and he said, "Once you get your license you have to get a job." He'd been watching the oldest brother and saw the pattern.

So Riley drove to school today. Soon he'll drive to his girlfriend's house. Wait…he doesn't have a girlfriend so that can wait! Then he'll drive to meet his friends at the Promenade. He'll drive to the ballpark. I guess a drive into work isn't too far away. Then to college. Then away.

But he can drive! So he can drive home!

Freedom is an awesome thing. It's both frustrating and joyful. But it is hopeful, too.

Jesus sets free from sin all those who submit their lives to him. You will no longer be bound by the burdens and problems of sin. You'll still be living in a world marred by sin. You'll still have to deal with the consequences of some of the sins you have committed. But the burden of guilt is laid upon him. The fear of eternal punishment will be gone. The hope for better choices is ahead.

Sure, you'll be free to choose sin if you want. And that will have consequences. But you'll be free to return to him in repentance, confessing your sin and receiving forgiveness. Just as eager as I am to go see my parents, you'll be eager to repent and confess. There is always good stuff waiting for me when I go see my parents. There will always be good stuff waiting for you when you repent and confess.

You can always go home.

Now that he can drive, I wonder how long before he gets a girlfriend...

Friday, December 23, 2016

Grey Days

I look out the window and see a few colors. A blue building. Tan grass. Green bushes. But mostly grey. Grey tree trunks and limbs. Grey sky. Grey asphalt. Grey decking.

What do you notice when you look around you? I think we tend to notice what is different. Grey has become a neutral color for decor. About 16 years ago I began a new job. The walls of the business were painted grey. That was a first for me, at least as much as I can remember. I don't recall having a grey office before that but everything was grey. The walls. The carpet. The cubicle walls. The desktops. Different shades of grey but all grey.

I got used to it.

I like grey or gray. I like when the leaves fall from the trees and all that is left are the grey trunks and limbs. I like a grey sky. I like a grey road stretched out before me.

The grey sort of disappears; it becomes nondescript. So others things, other colors, pop out. Like the blue building and the tan grass and the green bushes. I glance across the yard and see a brown trash can, the kind you roll to the curb on Fridays. What I see most about the trash can are the bright white letters painted on its side. It's too far away for me to read what it says but my eyes are drawn to the lettering. Because it's different. It stands out. Against a backdrop of grey asphalt.

It's not just grey. If everything was orange and one thing was another color, you would notice it and probably not be able to look away. Someone once told me that the way to see deer in the woods is to look for horizontal lines because most everything else would be vertical.

Different stands out. Ask those who began wearing what is now common in the hip hop culture why they started dressing like that. To be different. Ask a musician how he developed his style. To be different. Ask a hip pastor why he preaches or teaches like he does. To be different. To get noticed.

If different gets noticed - good or bad - why are Christian's content to blend in? When Jesus saves a person and his Spirit moves in, the person is changed. He's not what he was. He's not like the world. He's different. Over time he becomes more and more like Jesus.

Christians ought to be the people who are noticed. Not because of a boycott or a rally, even though those are sometimes needed. But noticed because our lives and our reactions to life are different.

I attended two funerals this week. One was for a person whose entire life had been a reflection of Jesus. The other was for a person whose life had been changed midstream for Jesus. They were different and people noticed.

The first flowers of spring, the first star in the night sky, the first car you pass on a lonely stretch of road, the splash of color against a grey background, the object that doesn't belong with the others (remember Sesame Street?)… These stick out because they are different.

We live in the same world as everyone else, but Christians ought to stand out. We ought to stand out because we are different. We are different because of Jesus.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The America You'll Die In

The America you'll die in is not the America you were born in.

Is that a true statement? Has there been a 70-year span at any time in America's history that did not show dramatic change? One this is sure: change is a given.

Those who lament the current state of the union simply aren't happy with the way things are today. They prefer something they've experienced that they like better. For some Americans that is a time years ago. For other Americans that is a time weeks ago. But things change. That is a given.

Consider a person's level of patriotism or commitment to the country. And also consider a person's level of Christian commitment. The intersection of the two spheres is not the same for each person. I know people who think the two are virtually the same. They say that to be Christian is to be American and vice versa.

I also know a few people that have no intersection of the two realities. They see themselves as Americans but not Christian at all. Still others see themselves as faithful to Christ but are not committed to the country.

Most people I know are somewhere in the middle. Their patriotism and their Christian faith intersect, at least a little.

But everyone will die in an America they were not born in. Change is a given.

I think - from a Christian perspective - we ought to be focused on the Gospel mission no matter our position of patriotism. The country you love may change - it will change. But Jesus Christ will never change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Though the country will change, Jesus will not.

Are political, social, and economic positions unimportant? Not necessarily but our position on salvation and Christlikeness is of ultimate importance.

Christians, we are to be more concerned with a person's abode after his death that the political climate of his earthly home. Read that sentence again… Not concerned only with heaven but concerned more with heaven and still concerned with this life.

Rather than an intersection of the spheres of our lives, perhaps the right way to see it is for a Christian's faith to stretch over and into all other areas of our lives.

I read an article a few years ago that pointed out the grammatical difference of saying, "I am an American Christian" and "I am a Christian American." The significance of using the word Christian as an adjective (the second example) is that it influences our position as an American. Otherwise, being an American influences our Christianity and only Christ and his word should do that.

So you are an American. Be a Christian American.

You are a parent. Be a Christian parent.

You are a business owner. Be a Christian business owner.

You are a friend. Be a Christian friend.

You are a ___________. Be a Christian ___________.

Let your faith in Christ influence and impact everything else that you are.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Substitute

I have been subbing at Riley's school for about a month. I like it. I think they like me. Riley gets embarrassed most days. And it helps with the family budget!

For the most part a substitute teacher checks attendance, reminds students of assignments, hands out and takes up tests, tries to keep the students quiet, and various other sundry tasks. I've actually taught a little English and Bible.

I hope the opportunities to teach come more often. I like subbing but teaching would be cooler.

The Bible teaches that Jesus is our substitute when it comes to judgment for sin. The penalty for sin is death but God loves us so much that he put the penalty upon his son Jesus. Jesus died on the cross 2000 years ago as the substitute for each of us so that we would not have to bear that punishment.

The ultimate death is actually eternal existence in hell without God. Jesus absorbed that punishment, too. He bore all the effect of sin in our places.

That's an awesome substitute. I'm not that good. I can do some of what the real teacher can do, but not all. As our substitute, Jesus did everything that could possibly be done. He actually did what we could not do.

Wouldn't it be surprising if the substitute teacher was better than the teacher? Yeah, not likely! But our substitute - Jesus - is way better at dealing with our sin than we are. In fact, we can do nothing about our sin. Only Jesus can address our sin problem sufficiently.

My hope as a substitute teacher is to not cause the students to spiral toward failure. Jesus makes it possible for you and me to avoid eternal death and gain eternal life.

He's a better sub than I am.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for Kindness

Happy Thanksgiving! This is one of the days when people are a little kinder to one another. I think it's because we focus on the good instead of the bad. Of course, when the stores open and the mad rush begins the kindness goes away. So enjoy it while you can.

I remember one of the most kind deeds ever extended to me. It happened on Thanksgiving Day in 1992. I was fresh in the middle of devastating brokenness and a man named Bob Feltner seemed to sense it. He didn't just sense it, he acted in kindness toward me.

Bob owned and operated Feltner's Whatta-Burger in Russellville, Arkansas. His burger joint is on the corner across the highway from the local college. Both the restaurant and the college have grown since the time that I regularly attended both. Whatta-Burger began in November of 1967 and by the early 70s it was a regular stop for the Loyd family. I was just a kid stuffed in the back of a Ford Pinto with a bunch of other kids. This was before seatbelt laws and remember, my parents are from the drive-in movie era where you packed as many as possible into your car for one low admission. The burgers were and are great. The fries…well, they chuckle when a party of one orders a full order. It was a drive-up, place your order at the window, and stand there and wait for your order kind of place at first. Nobody complained about the wait. This was Whatta-Burger and it was worth the wait. We always ate in the car while still in the parking lot. Most everyone did.

Mr. Feltner eventually added an indoor dining room that is always as packed as the back of that Pinto. He passed away and his daughter and son-in-law run the business. I imagine he would be very proud.

So, here's my story of kindness and Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving of 1992 was the first holiday I would spend driving back and forth from Russellville to northwest Arkansas to pick up my boys. They were 8 and 6 years old and I would have driven any distance to be with them. I drove up to get them, came home to spend time with them, and drove them back when my visitation was over.

I also worked for KCJC radio at the time. I was the sales manager and had on-air experience so when Feltner's Whatta-Burger wanted a live remote on Thanksgiving Day the job fell to me. It was their 25th Anniversary and Bob wanted to roll back the prices to 1967. He may have thought that doing this on Thanksgiving Day would keep the loss in profit to a minimum but they were as busy that day as any I've seen. He opened for just a few hours but there was a steady line of customers having Whatta-Burgers and Whatta-Cheeses for Thanksgiving Dinner.

I sat in a booth with my two boys and broadcast live on the radio every 20 minutes. Yes, I took my boys to work that day. I really didn't have an option. Plus, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with them and they seemed to like being on the radio.

You might imagine how out of place I felt. A dad trying to figure out how to spend time with his boys in the midst of a celebration of successful business. I still cry when I drive away from Jim and Caleb so you can imagine how I felt when all this was fresh. Nothing was more important to me than spending time with them since my time with them was so limited. The customers probably never noticed us or our situation because they were in and out. To them I was just the guy on the radio and my kids came to work with me.

But Bob Feltner saw something different. He saw it all and I guess he understood. The restaurant was open for just two or three hours and after he closed Bob had a big Thanksgiving celebration planned at his house for his employees, family, and friends. I barely knew Mr. Feltner. He wasn't my client, I was just doing the broadcast because it was Thanksgiving Day and the station manager who sold advertising to him wasn't available. I was on salary so I got the job instead of paying a DJ to do it. My relationship with Bob was just barely what you might call a relationship.

After he cleared the dining room of all the guests who had stopped by for sacks and sacks full of burgers and fries, he came up to me while I was putting away the equipment and invited me and my boys to have Thanksgiving Dinner with him. I'm sure he was prepared to feed dozens of people so what difference would a man and his two small sons make? But I don't think his invitation was an obligatory gesture. I think it was kindness. I think it was genuine kindness. He saw brokenness trying to be put back together and he offered to help.

If you know me very well you already know my response. I gratefully declined his offer but I never forgot his kindness. Not a Thanksgiving or a trip through Russellville on highway 7 go by that I don't remember the kindness of Bob Feltner. And I hope that someday somebody can write about the kindness of this Bob the way I've written about the kindness of that Bob.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Am I Thankful For?

This is Thanksgiving week. The kids are home from school. Families look forward to gathering. Retail (online and brick-and-mortar) is expectant. Parade routes are being readied. Teams are making final preparations.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is definitely an American tradition. But thankfulness belongs to God.

I wonder how many times the phrase "Give thanks to the Lord" or something like it is in the Bible? Add to that the expressions of thankfulness reaching from Genesis to Revelation. That we should be thankful to our Creator, Provider, Sustainer, and Savior seems obvious to me.

One verse about thankfulness that stands out for me is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 where Paul writes, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

Give thanks.

In all circumstances.

For this is God's will.

For you.

In Christ Jesus.

The two phrases most difficult for me to apply are "in all circumstances" and "for this is God's will." I understand giving thanks. I know it is specific to me. I'm glad thankfulness is fully accomplished in Jesus.

But in all circumstances? This morning's news included reports of a school bus crash that left several children injured and a half dozen dead. I just read online that the number of Syrian refugees has doubled in a short period of time. Lurking not too far below the surface is the real threat of ISIS and other terrorist groups. Half of the population of these United States think the world will end on January 20, 2017. The other half is hoping is doesn't end before then.

And we are to give thanks in all circumstances? Yes. Because God is on the throne. He is sovereign. He rules and reigns. And nothing…nobody…can stand against him. I've had some hard times when I couldn't think of a reason to be thankful. I'll share one particular Thanksgiving story later this week. What I've learned is that thankfulness is possible when I keep my focus on Jesus. When I take my eyes off Jesus and begin to focus on the problems and issues and trouble around me I sink into the problems and issues and trouble.

I am thankful that God gives peace and comfort even in situations of great loss. I am thankful that God provides all I need when I cannot imagine any other way of surviving. I am thankful that God loves and cares for all people. Those are not just words; they are truths. They are not just good for me to say when others go through stuff but are the anchors I need when I go through stuff.

Yes, give thanks in all circumstances. Because this is God's will for you. Your circumstances may or may not be God's will. I'm not convinced that everything that happens was planned by God. I believe some of our circumstances are the product of our choices and some are just simply the result of living in a world broken by sin.

But being thankful is God's will. I please God when I align my life with his will and am obedient to his word and express my love to him and to others. Being thankful pleases God. Being thankful in all circumstances pleases God. When I am thankful to God I am showing that I believe he is my Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Savior, etc. When I am thankful to God in all circumstances I am showing that I believe he is Sovereign and good, and I am showing that I trust him no matter what the circumstances are.

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Greatest Game

The Cubs' fanbase is widespread, nation wide. Not many teams can boast that. In part, it's because of WGN. Almost every game was cabled or dished into almost every home in America. This was at a time when you didn't have the broadcast choices we have now. The Braves benefit from a similar setup.

Many in my generation fell in love with teams we saw on the Saturday Game of the Week on NBC. For me it was the Reds.

Others chose their favorite team because of late night AM radio broadcasts and legendary voices.

Broadcasting ingrained a love for the game and a team in our lives. I miss those days. The 2016 World Series solidifies baseball as my favorite sport even though my team didn't make it. My team lost almost as many games as the Cubs won.

But if you can't enjoy what happened last night, you may just need to listen to more games on the radio.