Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tenth Grade

It's back-to-school time at our house. Riley starts 10th grade today. I remember Jim and Caleb starting high school. I remember my first day as a sophomore.

What I don't remember is having a lot of choices about classes. I took the advanced math and science; I took the first offering of Sociology; I had a typing class.

But we didn't have a Digital Imaging class. Not even an Analog Imaging class that I recall; Mr. Ingram taught the annual staff to use cameras and develop pictures in a dark room. We had one foreign language; I didn't take it.

I didn't do shop class or home economics but I did join a lot of clubs so I could get in the group picture for the annual. Kids now days don't even call it an annual; it's a year book.

I didn't have a backpack or a long list of supplies for each, separate, individual class. Seems like it was my responsibility to have pencil and paper and keep up with stuff.

And those expensive calculators? We had to show all our work. We had to know the formula. We had to draw our own graphs.

We shared lockers. We wanted to.

Having a kid in tenth grade is supposed to make you feel old but when I compare his sophomore year to mine I feel really old.

I do remember tenth grade being a great year and I hope it is for Riley and his friends, too.

Monday, May 30, 2016

What I Cannot See

A man in our church family has been very ill recently. That has required many stays in local hospitals. I've visited him several times, mostly recently at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock.

Baptist is going through a lengthy and dramatic renovation. The most dramatic part is listening to people complain about the extra they have to walk to get into the building. It really is a mess. The main entrance is closed. The entrance all traffic is funneled through now is a good ways away. But the worst part is the path getting to the elevators once you are inside the building.

The elevators are conveniently located near the MAIN entrance…which is closed. After winding through rooms and corridors most of us never knew existed you'll find yourself standing before the familiar elevators; but you'll be complaining in dramatic fashion.

I'm smarter than the average bear so after a couple of trips through the temporary entrance I began parking in the parking deck. From there you enter the building via an elevated walkway into the second floor. Elevators or stairs are handy. I'm not sure it's a shorter journey but at least I CAN ENTER LIKE I'M SUPPOSED TO! No construction mess. No drama.

Last week I went to visit Jerry and was walking through the elevated walkway behind a young man and his two children. The kids looked like they may have been about 6 (boy) and 4 (girl). Maybe they were going to visit their mother and new baby sibling! They looked excited when they first entered the walkway.

Then they noticed that they were walking on air. Looking out the windows of the walkway they could see nothing except nothing all the way down to the street twenty feet below. The little boy walked near the windows a look up and down and all around.

The little girl walked right down the middle of the walkway looking at her feet.

Once we crossed the street below the walkway rests atop a one-level section of the hospital. The little boy announced, "Hey, we're walking on the roof!"

That was the best news the little girl had heard since Daddy told her about the new baby. She went straight to the edge and began looking around. A little skipping dance appeared in her gait.

She was safe now because she could see that the walkway was resting on something.

So I began to think about my life as a follower of Jesus. Sometimes I can't see or feel what is supporting me. It's like I'm suspended in midair and could fall at any moment.

Have you ever felt like that? You may feel like you are all alone or like everything is crumbling around you. You can't find anybody who cares enough to be there for you.

The Bible tells me that Jesus is always with us and will never leave us. Do you believe that? It's true and you can place all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

It's a matter of trust. Trust is easier when you look out the window and see safety and security. But trust is still possible when you can't see what or who is holding you. But trust that Jesus is holding you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What If What I Believe Isn't True?

I just read an article written by a minister. He is struggling with the transgender issues; aren't we all? I appreciate his pursuit of more knowledge on the subject. We ministers know what the Bible says about God creating humans male and female. We believe that what God created was his intention and was good. But many of us (ministers) don't know much about the science revealed in creation. This guy asked questions so he could know more. You can read his article here.

I like the idea of learning more about a subject of which you have limited knowledge. The author said what he learned brings theological questions to mind. I guess so.

When we encounter subjects - related to this or not - that push against our theological beliefs, what should we do? Here are a few keys to help you if you struggle with this.

First, pray about it. God doesn't want you to be confused and he will help bring clarity to things you don't know. Another reason to pray is that it will help you as you follow the next keys - especially the last one!

Second, know that the Bible is true. There is nothing in the Bible that is false or misleading. The truths in scripture can never lead you into false beliefs. If you are wishy-washy on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible you will struggle more than you should with issues like the transgender debate.

Third, read the Bible. How can I hold to biblical truths if I don't know them? Listening to sermons and participating in group Bible studies are great ways to learn scripture. By themselves these cannot teach you all you need to know. God's Spirit does a lot of things for believers, and one of them is to teach us truth. As you read the Bible you will have clarity on some issues and will be confused on others. Stay with it because the Holy Spirit is teaching you; sometimes is takes a little time and repetition.

Fourth, have conversations with people who hold to Christian beliefs. Iron sharpens iron and though you may not feel very "iron-y" you can learn from others. And they'll probably learn something from you; remember, the Spirit is teaching you, too!

Fifth, have conversation with people who hold opposing beliefs. Simply talking with someone who holds a different opinion doesn't mean you agree with them. And it doesn't mean you have to argue with them. And it doesn't mean you think you may be wrong. Those conversations may be in person or electronically or through books and articles. Hearing opposing views may help you see where you can correct what you believe. It can also help solidify your faith in what you believe. Don't be afraid to talk with people you don't agree with. The purpose is not to moderate your beliefs but to correct and/or solidify them.

What would you add to this list of keys to dealing with hard issues?

Monday, May 16, 2016

That Stinks

My favorite sport is baseball. I love it all the way from T-ball to the Big Leagues. Baseball has a pretty thick rulebook and almost as many unwritten rules. For example, if a team hits back-to-back-to-back home runs and you are the next batter, you can expect to have the pitcher throw at you even if your average is .212 and you haven't hit 10 home runs in your 10-year career.

The unwritten rules came into play last night as the Blue Jays faced the Rangers. You may need a little context. In last year's Postseason, these teams met and the Blue Jays walked off with the series on a home run by Jose Bautista. After his monster swing that launched the ball into the stands, Bautista did a humongous bat flip as he watched the ball sail away to victory.

The Rangers didn't like it. I didn't either, actually. I'm a purist. I'm old fashioned. Play the game hard and right and leave the grandstanding in, well, in the grandstands.

Typically, Bautista could expect a pitch somewhere north of his shoulders on his next at bat the next night. The only trouble is that the season was over for the Rangers so they didn't have a chance to follow the unwritten rule of settling the score. This past weekend was the first time the teams squared off since "The Bat Flip." Everyone expected something but nothing happened. Nothing happened until Bautista's last at bat against the Rangers in Arlington for the weekend series.

Here comes the pitch. High and tight. He gets hit in the ribs and takes first base. The next batter flies out to left field. Then the unwritten rules come into play again. A new pitcher faces the next batter with Bautista on first. Ground ball to third for an apparent routine 5-4-3 double play. Except Bautista, running from first and irritated by being hit by the pitch, slides hard into second. He's out but he probably didn't really care. He was sending a message to the Rangers because they had sent a message to him because of "The Bat Flip." The unwritten rules are supposed to provide a way to even the score with one team feels disrespected or something. The problem is that neither team ever feels like the issue is settled.

Rangers second basemen Rougned Odor and Bautista get in each others faces. Push. Push. Then punch! Odor landed a solid right on Bautista that knocked the helmet and sunglasses right off "The Bat Flip"-er's face. Find the video if you haven't seen it. It's pretty funny.

What I found most funny (funniest…) is the was Mr. Bat Flip began to backpedal when Odor flipped his hat and glasses to the dirt. Watch the video of "The Bat Flip" and you'll notice a definite difference in the facial expression from then and last night.

Anyway, the unwritten rules - aren't rules supposed to regulate play? - seem to have disrupted good baseball.

One, Bautista was out of line, in my opinion, with the demonstrative bat flip.

Two, the Rangers probably should not have beaned Bautista seven months after "The Bat Flip."

Third, Bautista should not have slid into second quite like he did. It looks like he's more interested in retribution that breaking up a double play.

Fourth, Odor should have been the mature one and smiled as he walked off the field. Double play, inning over.

Fifth, 50 players, two coaching staffs, and 40,000 fans should have let it end without the melee.

Sixth, Bautista should thank Beltre for pulling him out of harms way.

Sixth, play hard and play right. Anything else stinks.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Study Hall

At this moment I am sitting in the coffee shop at Immanuel Baptist Church while Riley reads his daily dose of Great Expectations. We are waiting for Deana to get off work (she works here).

Riley needs his study time. He doesn't use it much but he needs it. Actually, he's doing pretty good but just a little extra effort can make a big difference. His school released news today that eight students qualified for a special scholarship that would pay up to $10,000 per year for four years. That would be nice to get! Very few baseball players get full scholarships so academics can play a big role in paying for college.

So we are in study hall.

Think about what just a little extra effort would do in your relationship with Jesus. I'm not talking about trying harder to earn your salvation; salvation is a gift that is free to you because Jesus paid the price for it by dying for your sins. I'm talking about the closeness that most Christians have experienced and would like to return to.

Remember when you had the closest walk with the Lord. You felt his presence and power all the time. You understood themes in the Bible and knew what God wanted you to do. You enjoyed going to church and couldn't wait to gather with others who believe. Then something happened and it's not that way anymore.

That "something" may be different for each one of us but at the core it's the same thing…sin. Anything that gets between you and Jesus is sin. Maybe you started a new relationship and you can't help but spend all your time with her. You think about every moment you're not with her. Or the stress at work ramped up and you are constantly thinking about that. Or the children have entered a new stage of life that has turned your home upside down. Or an addiction that hasn't been a problem has come back into your life. Or it could be a jillion other things.

Jesus told some Christians two thousand years ago that they had lost their first love. I think the first love is loving God as a first priority and loving God with great passion. Maybe the extra effort you need to exert is making God your priority and loving him with great passion. The Bible says, "You shall have no other gods before me" and "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."

I've found that the harder I try to do this the harder it is to actually do it. I mean it's not about my effort except for me to give up control of my life and allowing God's Spirit to lead me. I've never actually seen this happen but think about a fighter pilot who is in a situation where he needs to eject from the cockpit. If he stays put he's in trouble. He has to get out. Something has to change. But all he can do is pull the lever or push the button. After that, the systems take over and he's safely ejected away from the danger.

There's not much you can do to draw closer to the Lord except give up the selfishness and the control and whatever other sins are between you and him. When the pilot hits the eject button he's still in the bad place but not for long. When you surrender control, stop the sin, and turn to the Lord, at that moment you are still in a bad place but it's about to get better.

Study hall isn't that easy. I wish it was. And I don't mean to make it sound like I think repentance (stopping the sin and turning to God) is easy, but there's nothing else to do. I use words like surrender or yield because it shows that I am giving up control and allowing God to take over.

Rather than working harder we actually need to work less. But that's hard work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Awkward

I've reached an age where I need monthly injections. There's not much that makes me chuckle on the inside more than the small talk that accompanies a shot down there. At least we don't make eye contact during the procedure.

What's the most awkward moment you've endured? It's easier (and more fun) to endure someone else's awkward moment than your own, isn't it!

I get into a lot of embarrassing moments. I was maybe 5 years old and we were Christmas shopping. I was standing in line at the checkout with my mother but lost track of her. The stuff they put by the checkout lanes is just too interesting for a 5 year old to ignore.

I looked away from the goodies and at my eye level saw a hand holding a pretty cool toy. Without realizing that this person was not my mother I blurted out, "I didn't know you were getting me that!" I may have even grabbed it to get a closer look!

That was certainly an awkward moment for such a little boy before I even knew what awkward was.

You know that kid that has a growing spurt and looks really awkward? That's not me. I always put on the weight before the height. But those kids who do grow quickly provide a few laughs along the way. Like the giraffes at the zoo. Or the moose I saw in Alaska.

Each person has something about them that is a little awkward. It may be in his looks or her social graces. I've even had people laugh at my accent. Me! Can you believe that?

God is the creator of all things and each person you see today is a creation of his. When God created the world he looked at everything he had created and said it was good. Although sin has entered the world and "good" may not be our description of some of the things we see, everybody has something good within them.

The good within is not because of anything we've done and we cannot hope that our good will offset our sin. But the good within is because of our creator who created us in his image. The good within is the image of God. And while it is somehow hidden by our fallen sinful nature, God is at work to redeem each of us.

You don't have to be known for the scars sin leaves in your life. You can be known as a child of God who is overcoming the impact of sin because the creator is redeeming you and his image within you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Late Bloomer

I'm looking out the living room window into the backyard. The grass is green and has already been cut once. All of the bushes sport bright green leaves. Of course, the evergreens are green. The Bradford Pears have bloomed and the petals have blown across the yard and stuck on the windshield of our vehicles. The hardwoods are last to the Spring party.

One of my best friends through school was a late bloomer physically. Let's just say that his 18th year was a good one. He went from being about my size (5'8" since 8th grade) to towering over me. When a person blooms isn't nearly as important as who they are after they bloom. Same with the trees; in a month nobody will remember what they looked like today.

Spiritually, we might be late bloomers, too. I was saved when I was 8 years old. I have no doubt that it was a genuine conversion experience. My teenage years were typical but during the Summer after graduation I knew God was calling me to Christian ministry and I began to chart my path in that direction. I would say I was a late bloomer because God probably was calling me to ministry for years before I surrendered.

I've known men and women who have felt God's call on their lives to be involved in vocational ministry from very early ages. And they were obedient to serve and have for decades. That's not my story but I like theirs.

And I've known men and women who have felt God's call later in life. Some left successful careers to start a new career of ministry. That's not my story, either, but I like theirs.

I'm not just talking about vocational ministry. Doesn't it seem like the church has portrayed ministry as vocational only? Recently, we've done better at emphasizing the calling of every Christian into ministry. Christians who accept the mission of God as theirs too take the Good News home with them and to work with them and to school with them and to their times and places of play with them.

The transforming power of the Gospel does this to anyone who yields to God's will: any Christian - every Christian - can be an effective witness of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

That you may not have accepted that central role in your walk of faith doesn't have to define the rest of your life. Start now. Bloom now. To borrow a phrase from Vance Havner, let him be "the Lord of what's left" of your life.

It seems like in the few minutes I've been writing this post that the trees outside the window are a little greener. Once blooming starts you can't stop it. Imagine who will be eternally impacted if you agree with God and his mission and bloom today.