Friday, December 30, 2005
Thursday, December 29, 2005
My first observation: I can't imagine why it is called a "semiformal." The ladies all wore long gowns. My daughter spent an hour having her hair and makeup professionally primped. She wore more jewelry than a NBA rookie. The only thing semiformal about the ball, so far as I could tell, was the motley dress of the knuckle-dragging, greasy-haired, drooling-from-the-mouth boys who were sniffing around my daughter and the other daughters I was there to protect.
I spent most of the evening on "border patrol." You know what I mean. My job was to make sure that, during the slow songs, the young gentlemen's hands remained planted firmly north of the equator. From time to time I would spot some miscreant's paws migrating towards Brazil. A scowl from Pastor Weller usually sent them scurrying north of Panama.
There was also more "boob-hiking" than in a milking parlor. The gals ended each jig with a two-handed readjustment to their bosoms. Judging from the number of strapless dresses I saw, including the one my wife purchased for my daughter, there must be some new law against covering up one's shoulders with fabric. Or perhaps there is some new allergy that causes a skin eruption whenever scapula meets chiffon. For my part, I would have preferred a rash on my daughter's bare shoulders to what's-his-names paws on them.
I mentioned that this was my son's semiformal, too. I must admit that I am strangely conflicted in this regard. For my daughter I was a wall, unmoving, separating her from the hairy horde that pursued her. For my son I was a bridge. "Hey bud, why don't you go and ask Lexi for a dance?" "Sure looks like Amber needs someone to cut a rug with her!" Is this consistent? Is this fair? No to both questions.
It is, however, instructive. Fathers who are privileged to rear both sons and daughters lead a more complicated existence, I think, than those who can focus on one gender or the other. My friend Ben has it easier. He wakes up every day knowing that he must beat back any lad stupid enough to stalk Liz or Paige. I also suspect Jason has an easier time of it than I. His home is nearly an estrogen-fee zone. With Mason and Carter its all about the testosterone.
Me, on the other hand, I walk the line between encouraging my sons to pursue and telling my daughter to resist. It is hypocritical, I know. But that's the way it is in Wellerville.
Did I mention that my daughter has asked me not to chaperone her next dance? Go figure.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
John died this morning. For some reason Laura and I couldn’t sleep so we sat up and dozed on and off in the living room with John. He was sleeping more soundly than usual and suddenly he woke up bright and excited and said, "I’m going home now. It’s awesome. I’m going to be with Jesus." He was so happy about it. Then he fell into a restless sleep and died peacefully several hours later. God is so merciful.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have! longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7,8) Way to go John. I’ll see you in heaven.
Thanks for you prayers....Phil
We are praying for you, Phil and Laura. And, we are rejoicing with John who is able to experience his reward for trusting in Christ. This Christmas, John fully comprehends why the Baby came, why He died, and why He lives again. Merry Christmas, John.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Navy Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt began a hunger strike outside the White House this week to draw attention to what he sees as a violation of his rights and the disenfranchisement of the 80% of military men and women who claim to be Christian.
And while the military has no official policy concerning what it calls "sectarian prayers," evaluators at the chaplaincy center where Klingenschmitt received his training stand by with clipboards in hand to evaluate the prayers of prospective Navy chaplains. Those who pray to "God" are praised while those who pray in the name of Christ are "counseled" - the Navy's euphemistic term for being disciplined.
Lest you think the good lieutenant is a flame-throwing, other-religion-hating evangelist for Jesus understand this: He has also fought for the rights of Jewish sailors to eat kosher meals on board ship and has worked to have Muslim participation in the daily shipboard prayers. Apparently inclusivism only extends to those who don't believe in Jesus.
The second verse of the official Navy hymn, "Eternal Father Strong to Save," sings:
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word,
Who walked'st on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
As a child, it always puzzled me that our church sang only the first an third verses of hymns. There was even a joke about "being as lonely as the second verse of a song." Apparently the Navy has decided, if not to cut the second verse from its own hymn, it can at least slash it from the vocabulary of it's spiritual leaders.
What is next?
To read the complete Washington Post story, click here.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
I got up early for a meeting yesterday and found John playing a new computer game a friend had given him. He had been up all night, bent on conquest. His brother had worn out at 3 AM. After I had given him a breathing treatment we had this conversation.
"Dad, I think I’m anemic again...You probably are John....I want another transfusion.... Are you sure you want one?...I’m not ready to give up...John some things we do in medicine prolong living and some things prolong dying...What do you think I should do?...I wasn’t planning to give you anymore blood, but if you want a transfusion I won’t withhold it from you...Dad, do you have peace with that?...uhuh...Then lets wait...I love you John...I love you dad."
I could barely see the road through tears as I went to my meeting. That evening he told me he’d been praying and didn’t want anymore blood.
A friend at church once comforted me with the words, "We know how to live...what we don’t know is how to die." I doesn’t sound comforting but it gave me permission to feel uncomfortable with all this.
A photographer friend carved out some time and came to our home to take a family picture. We set everything up outside and then my oldest son carried John out to pose with everyone. It was hard not to cry between smiles for the camera. Many people have brought meals over; our freezer is stuffed. If love could be measured in food volume we are smothered.
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son,and they will call him Immanuel - which means God with us." (Matthew 1:23) This Christmas will probably be the most memorable in my lifetime. Every year as we approach Christmas we will think of John. Every year we will be reminded of God’s life lesson in 2005...God with us. Comforting us, holding us, guiding us, carrying us. Isn’t God good. Thanks for praying....Phil
What do you give your dying son for Christmas? I can't imagine. Putting myself in Phil's shoes . . . the thought is too staggering. I would want to give my son life, of course. But then that is what Phil and Laura have given to John. Though he is slipping physically, he is strong spiritually because long ago they taught him about the one who holds the key to eternal life.
It is feels a little preposterous showering my children with gifts this year when Johnny would just very much like to live. But then again, life is what he has because he knows the way, the truth and the life - Jesus! And so for him, this will be a Merry Christmas.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
In January, a prosecutor delivered her opening remarks in a murder trial that the media would have ignored had not the defendant been an NFL hall-of-famer. Six months later, O.J. tried on a pair of ill-fitting gloves. Four months after that, Johnny Cochran intoned "if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit," and the jury did just that.
In February, the Dow Jones closed above 4,000 points for the first time. Bolstered by the initial public offerings of Netscape and other internet start-ups, the Dow would later smash the 5,000 point barrier. If you were invested at the time (I wasn’t), you have more than doubled your money in the decade since.
In 1995, a former solider turned hater blew up Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal building killing 168 innocent people, and Christopher Reeves fell off his horse and became the real superman of those disabled by spinal cord injuries.
Of course, my children are too young to remember any of that. Maybe these will connect. 1995 saw the DVD introduced to consumers, the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio and the ballyhooed rollout of Microsoft’s Windows ‘95. The DVD is bigger than ever, Cleveland is still rockin’ and rollin’, and Windows ‘95 is as obsolete as every other decade-old computer innovation. Calvin and Hobbs became extinct, too when their last new comic strip ran on December 31, 1995.
Some famous voices were silenced that year. Burl Ives died but his song "Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas" lives on. Howard Cosell died nine days after that. Three months later, Zsa Zsa’s sister Eva Gabor passed away. So did Dean Martin.
What about famous births? It’s too early to tell, really, because 1995's progeny will only turn eleven in 2006. Of course, one soon-to-be-famous child named Jonah Benjamin Weller made his entrance into our world.
As I said, a lot can happen in a year of Sundays. I wonder what will happen in this year of fifty-three Sundays? There is much that we cannot control. Most of it, really. The world will spin on. People will die. Others will be born. Tragedies and triumphs persist. But what will occur in this year of Sundays for me? Do I have any control over that?
The answer? Yes and no. Life happens and often I am merely along for the ride. Nevertheless, I can "make the most of every opportunity" as Paul told the Colossian church. I can live every moment for Christ and for His purpose. I can dedicate myself to "connecting with God and with people" every moment of every day. While I can’t choose what happens to me, I can choose what happens by me.
It will be another six years before "bookend Sundays" return. When some preacher puts pen to paper in December 2011, what will he write? Will he write about me? About you? I doubt it. Truth be told, we’re both tiny blips on life’s radar. Still, maybe we can begin writing our own tale. One of hopes and love and devotion to God and each other. And though it may not become famous or be widely retold, we can still make a difference - an eternal difference- in this year’s fifty-three Sundays.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
That is to say, John's body is dying. His spirit is alive and well because he walks with Jesus. Please say a prayer for John today, and for his family. Their faith is solid. They know where John is heading, and they'll be following him there.
You can learn about John's inspiring journey through his online testimony.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Light a candle,
For the old man who sits staring,
Out a frosty windowpane.
Light a candle,
For the woman who is lonely,
And every Christmas it's the same.
For the children who need more
Than presents can bring,
Light a candle, Light the dark,
Light the world, Light a heart or two.
Light a candle for me, I'll light a candle for you.
Light a candle,
For the homeless and the hungry,
A little shelter from the cold.
Light a candle,
For the broken and forgotten,
May the season warm their souls.
Can we open our hearts to shine through the dark?
And in this special time of year,
May peace on earth surround us here,
And teach us there's a better way to live.
Oh with every flame that burns, we must somehow learn
That love's the greatest gift we ever give.
I was puzzled enough to begin wondering about the significance of candle lighting during the holiday season. I learned that candle lighting has been a religious practice for centuries. Both Jews and Christians use candles in their worship as a symbol of enlightenment and as a symbol of Messiah, the Light of the world. In fact, St. Jerome told Vigilantius that candles weren't merely used to dispel darkness, but to express Christian joy. The advent candles that some Christians light in the weeks preceding Christmas proclaim the coming of that Light as a baby in a drafty back-alley stable.
By dispelling darkness, candles proclaim hope. Maybe that is why Avalon uses this candle metaphor. If we could distill the message of Christmas to one word, that word would be hope. When Michael, Cherrie, Jody and Janna sing of lighting a candle for those who are weary - for those for whom there is little hope - they are expressing a profound truth: real hope, a hope that goes beyond "dolls that can talk and will go for a walk", is found in Jesus Christ.
When you make out your Christmas list this season, don't forget that the greatest gift you can give your loved one, or your co-worker, or anyone else, is the greatest gift that you have received - the gift of Jesus Christ.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
The score was close throughout the contest. In the last quarter it was especially nip and tuck. With 6.2 seconds remaining, our team was up by three. The opponents brought the ball in and quickly moved it up the floor. They shot a three and missed. It was then that our assistant coach and several of the fans noticed that the game clock had not been started.
As the shot attempt clanged off the rim and was rebounded by the offense, our coach and fans began to go ape. We were screaming "start the clock!" Another three-pointer was lofted, missed and rebounded. Finally the clock started, but not before one of their players was able to take a third attempt. This one dropped in, tying the game just as time (finally) expired.
Now, if you've ever been to a hotly contested sports event, you can pretty well guess what happened next. Pandemonium. Anger. Sharp words. The officials asked the clock keeper what happened, and he admitted that he forgot to start the clock. I don't doubt him. After all, he's some volunteer, and I'd bet the farm that he had no ill intent, but was just caught up in the game like the rest of us.
In the overtime period, our boys managed to pull out the win by one point. I'm glad. Otherwise we might have seen a real brawl.
The whole scenario made me think about time. Is the clock running on me? Does it ever stop? The Bible tells us that God has ". . .decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer." (Job 14:5, NLT)
The clock is running on me and on you. Let's follow the Apostle Paul's advice and "make the most of every opportunity.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Lew Harris, who founded this great site, asked me to do it maybe seven or eight years ago, and I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to believe it would never end.
But again, all things must pass, and my column for E! Online must pass. In a way, it is actually the perfect time for it to pass. Lew, whom I have known forever, was impressed that I knew so many stars at Morton's on Monday nights.
He could not get over it, in fact. So, he said I should write a column about the stars I saw at Morton's and what they had to say.
It worked well for a long time, but gradually, my changing as a person and the world's change have overtaken it. On a small scale, Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and definitely some stars.
I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago, and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie.
But Morton's is not the star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.
Beyond that, a bigger change has happened. I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated. But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.
How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a "star" we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?
Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails. They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.
A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq. He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets. Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.
To read the rest of this inspiring article by author / actor / journalist Ben Stein, click here.
Friday, December 02, 2005
And, thank you to all my "inspire-ers." Thank you Mike H. Thank you Chad C. Thank you Cindy at the bank. Thank you Tracy, who is doing it the "old fashioned way." I could not do this without all of you!
Thursday, December 01, 2005
All that means that I will soon need a new picture for my profile. And when I am at my "ideal" weight, which has yet to be determined by my physician, I will title my book, "Half the Man I Used to Be."
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Interesting that I saw none of that today. Sure, there were statues in the building. There was one of Mary and one of Joseph holding a carpenter's square. There was one of Jesus with a red heart on his chest, and one of Him on the cross. My favorite was the one of St. Michael. He was standing above the altar in Roman military dress.
But these weren't the center of the service. I was surprised at how much scripture I heard. I was always taught that Catholics were not "people of the book." I was startled at how often I heard Christ's name praised. I was taught that Jesus was subordinate to Mary in the Catholic church. I was pleasantly pleased by the very scriptural and encouraging homily that Father Dave preached.
I'm not going to convert anytime soon. Yes, I still hold some differences with the Catholic church. I plan to stay right where I am at, preaching in an Independent Christian Church. But after today, I'll think of my Catholic friends more as brothers and sisters. Siblings with whom I disagree on some important matters of faith, but siblings nonetheless rather than the wayward cousins I've always thought them to be.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
My favorite spot is “the nativity room.” That is what we’re calling our dining room where there are an assortment of crèches on display. There is one we bought many years ago. It didn’t cost a lot, but it was more than we could afford at the time. It is traditional with moss on the roof and ceramic statuettes. My sister loaned us a beautiful set. A missionary living in Africa, she was afraid to ship it overseas. It is elegant, a pearly white. Our newest addition was a stunning “Willow Tree” version, a gift from my mother-in-law.
In the course of setting out our nativity sets, I noticed that the oldest of them sustained some damage. Sometime after last Christmas several of the animals broke. The camel lost his hump. The donkey is missing one ear. One of the Wisemen was decapitated. A childhood Vacation Bible School project, I’ve owned these statues since I was a boy. So, in spite of the broken pieces, I decided to display what was left.
But when I set them all out I noticed that baby Jesus was missing. He was nowhere to be found among the shards of ceramic in the bottom of the bag. The infant was absent. I contemplated discarding the battered set, but then stopped. The fact is the baby is missing from many people’s Christmas. Lost in the hectic hubbub of the holiday is the reality that God’s Son came to earth to redeem mankind. Christ is at the center of Christmas!
So my incomplete nativity set remains in a place of honor as a reminder that whenever Jesus is missing, there is something that is just not right about Christmas. Hopefully all is well with you this yuletide season. If not, maybe you’ll discover the solution when you find the missing Jesus.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Christmas cards, stockings and trees that catch fire,
Shopping mall craziness raises my ire.
Visiting in-laws the wife to appease.
These are the "joys" of life’s holiday squeeze.
Snowdrifts in my yard and ice in my gutters.
Shoveling sidewalks with children who mutter.
Iced over windows and dead batteries.
These are the "joys" of life’s holiday squeeze.
School’s out early,
Kids are surly,
Mom and dad are cranks
I try to remember my holiday cheer,
But its hard this time of year.
Maybe this year I can focus on Jesus.
God’s Son sent earthward from our sin to free us.
He is the reason for holiday cheer,
He brings real joy in this time of the year.
The seasons adornments are all quite inspiring.
But if they’re our focus they only cause tiring.
They’re not the reason for holiday cheer,
He brings real joy in this time of the year.
In the manger,
Sent from God above.
A Savior from Heaven the world to redeem,
To manifest God’s great love!
Monday, November 21, 2005
We received word from the Sons of the American Legion today that they are donating $250 toward this effort! Thanks! This means we're halfway toward the purchase price of the computer. We need an additional $250 as well as some money for shipping. Wouldn't it be great if we could get this done and to Trevor in time for Christmas!
If you would like to contribute, please send your check to:
Butler Church of Christ
ATTN: Frank Weller
PO Box 344
Butler, IN 46721
Make the check payable to the church and write, "Trevor's Laptop" in the subject line.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Funny thing about trophies today. Kids get them for everything. Once reserved only for those who won the league championship, kids get trophies for merely participating. There are trophies for best defensive player, best offensive player, best dressed . . . okay I may be exagerating a bit, but just a bit.
I grew up in a 4-H family. My dad won only one trophy during his 4-H years. My sister and I, thanks in large part to our dad, won considerably more. Where are they now? In the attic and the basement, largely discarded. Yesterday's trophies aren't nearly as significant as I thought they would be when I hoisted them in triumph twenty years ago.
The fact is, we're all going to discard our trophies. The hymn writer George Bennard wrote:
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
'Til my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it one day for a crown.
Sensing his death was imminent, the Apostle Paul wrote ". . . there is in store for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
Trading my dusty trophies for a resplendant crown? Sounds like a good idea to me.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
While she was given a generous 1.5 million dollar dowry, Kuroda is a princess no more. What would cause her to relinquish her title and all the benefits of royalty? Love. She fell in love with a "commoner." Love made her trade the palace for an apartment, her carriage for a car.
This isn't the first time such a thing has happened. Jesus left His royal throne to become a commoner, too. And He did it without any dowry to sustain Him. Charles Wesley wrote,
He left his Father's throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace!
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race.
What would cause Christ to exchange sovereignty for humanity? Love, of course.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Friday, November 11, 2005
At his funeral, his grandsons spoke of Bob's love of sports. He was a skilled baseball player in his youth, nearly receiving a minor league contract from the Cleveland Indians. He loved to watch his grandsons play basketball. He was devoted to IU hoops. Both his granddaughters and his grandson Ben sang. I was touched when Beth sang about home being where Jesus is (and Bob) and how she had "never been more homesick than now."
I hope Nora doesn't change her answering machine for a while. Bob's voice is a great reminder that I will see him again - that this life isn't the end. For now, it is just his voice I hear; soon enough, I'll see him, too.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
For nearly twenty years, I’ve been on the other side of the hospital bed. Two decades ago I was an orderly at E.W. Sparrow Hospital near the college I was attending. I worked all over the hospital - mostly caring for cancer patients. After graduation, I became a pastor. I still found myself at the hospital quite often, having exchanged the bedpan for a Bible.
But never have I been the one wearing the hospital gown. I had never been the one who sat waiting for the surgeon to come by just before they took me away to the operating room. I’ve never been the one poked and probed and perturbed. May I share with you some first-hand insights?
First, surgery is scary business. The weeks that it take for the pre-operative testing lured me into a sense that I’d be "eased into it" come the day of surgery. Not so. From the moment I put on the hospital gown and white stockings, life shifted into road gear. No wheelchair or gurney, I walked to the operating room. Once there, I crawled up onto the altar – I mean, table. The table looked like something right out of a lethal injection chamber with extensions on which I laid my arms jutting out from the sides. I felt like Isaac looking at Abraham looming overhead with upraised knife. It was a frightening few moments waiting to go to sleep. I never knew that surgery could cause that much anxiety. From now on, I’ll better understand why folks want to pray with someone before they "go under the knife." I’ll take that prayer more seriously.
I also learned that it takes a while to recover. I still don’t have all my energy back. Although the pain is gone, I am learning that, at least for now, I need to rely on others more than usual. The next time I talk with someone expecting surgery, I need to make specific offers of help. I’ve often made general offers like "let me know if there is anything you need." Politeness has kept me from asking - as I suspect it does most people. Next time I’m talking with one convalescing from surgery I’ll be more specific: "Can I mow your lawn?" "Can I run your kids?" "Can I clean your house?" That sort of thing.
I’m also learning that God is good. He watched over me through my operation. I was unconscious, but He was not. I was at the mercy of my physicians and nurses, but Christ was in the O.R. watching over me. He remains my companion in my recovery. God is good.
I’m doing well now, thank you. My procedure appears to be (so far at least) a success. But it has been helpful in more ways than just delivering the desired outcome. It taught me a thing or two, and that makes it doubly worth it.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
He sits in a living room that has been converted to a shrine in honor of his dead uncle. Surrounded by portraits of his fallen idol, a video of his uncle’s last words plays in the background. He holds a poster with his hero’s portrait on it and declares, "When I grow up, I want to be just like him." It is a welcome sentiment in most families. It might be in your own, except for this: four-year-old Ahmed Masawbi holds a poster of his uncle, Ismail, the suicide bomber who killed three Israeli soldiers last month. Unlike most four-year-olds, whose greatest ambitions run somewhere between becoming a race car driver and a cowboy, when Ahmed is asked about the future he replies, "I want to kill the enemy." Such hate. Such chilling talk from one who only has recently learned to speak at all. It is nothing new. Ahmed is merely continuing a family tradition that is thousands of years old.
The Arabs and the Israelis have been brothers for thousands of years – and not just in the sense that "all God’s children are brothers" either. They have a common ancestry. They come from the same family tree! Ishmael, the father of the Arab nations, and Isaac, the Patriarch of the Jewish people, are both sons of Abraham. These two warring peoples who claim to have such extreme differences have the same father. In Genesis 16, God foretold the strife that would result from Ishmael’s birth when he told the boy’s mother: "This son of yours will be a wild one—free and untamed as a wild donkey! He will be against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live at odds with the rest of his brothers." Despite having the same father, the Arabs and Israelis seem bent on a path of mutual destruction. Unbelievable! Or is it?
The fact is, we often find ourselves "at war" with our Christian brothers and sisters, don’t we? In spite of our best intentions, we find that we just can’t seem to get along. And while we may not send suicide bombers into the "enemy’s" camp, we find other, more subtle means, of assassination. The subtle innuendo. The failure to correct an accusation we know to be false. Questions that sound more like an inquisition. It’s amazing what Christians can do to one another when they cast off restraint. I wonder if the pagan world looks at us Christians, the way we look at the Middle East. I wonder if they ask the same question Moses asked six millennia ago, "Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?"
I began corresponding with a new friend recently. In the course of doing some genealogical investigation on the Internet, I discovered a Jewish man named Weller who lives in Israel. I asked him if he knew much about the Jewish roots of our shared surname. His English is excellent, so we have carried on a conversation for a few weeks. If we continue our email conversations, I hope that I might have the opportunity to tell him about another Jewish friend of mine - a fellow named Y’shua who, despite being an observant Jew, has become the friend of Arabs, Germans, British, Japanese, Nigerians, and even a red-headed, pot-bellied preacher in America. I hope I can tell him about this "brother" because I believe that if he, too, will become one with Y’shua, then he will learn that in Christ there "is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one."
What too few realize, or are willing to admit, is that the solution to the Middle East conflict isn’t for the two sides to both claim Abraham as their father. The solution is for them to submit to the same elder brother – Jesus Christ. Actually, He is the solution to our conflicts as well. When we turn our eyes away from our differences and turn them towards Christ we just might find the peace that four-year-old Ahmed needs, that Israel needs, that we all need.
Monday, June 27, 2005
I come by it honestly, though. My dad was (is) one of the mushiest guys I know. There was this cartoon that ran in the newspaper that dad would cut out every chance he got. It was called, I think, "Love Is . . ." It depicted scenes from a wispy couples mundane life. "Love Is . . . washing his back." "Love Is . . . taking the three o’clock feeding." "Love Is . . . saving the last piece of pizza for her." You get the idea. Anyway, my dad would clip these out and would tape them on my mom’s mirror. Invariably, he would put his name beneath the guy and some pet name for my mom beneath the little cartoon girl. Four moves and five states later, I’ll bet if I sneak in their bedroom, those faded cartoons will still be in the corner of her mirror.
Dad may be mushy, but one thing he taught me through his cartoon collage was this: love is a verb. It is not just an emotion; it is an action. Love means doing something.
Paul put it this way in the most-read-at-wedding verses of the Bible:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear.1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NLT)
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
We’ve all asked that question. Even though he probably wasn’t the first to ask it, Frank Graeff, a turn of the century hymn-writer asked that question in a song:
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained,
Too deeply for mirth and song;
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?
Ever find yourself feeling that way? You’re not alone in that. A recent tragedy shook our community. Some might wonder if Jesus cares. May I encourage you with these two thoughts?
First, its okay to ask that question. God is big enough to handle it. When our faith feels shaken, and we ask God, "do you care?" He is not offended. In fact, it gives Him the opportunity to answer "yes!" and show us how much He loves us.
The second reality is this: HE CARES! God cares about you deeply. That is why He sent Jesus to die for our sins. And that is why His Presence is with every Christian as they walk through life. The Apostle Peter knew something about Jesus’ caring. He wrote: "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)
Does Jesus care? Let songwriter Graeff answer his own question:
O yes, He cares, I know He cares!
His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.
Everything was right with the world. I had joined the track team to meet girls - and it had finally paid off! At the previous meet, I asked Laura - or was her name Julie (I can't really remember) - to be my date at the prom. She said yes. Now Laura, or Julie, or whatever and I were on our way to a sunny spring track meet.
Track star is not quite the first thought that leaps to mind when one ponders my ample girth. Alas, I was part of that forlorn group of tracksters that Garrett High labeled the "weight men." We were never really sure if our moniker had to do with the amount of time we spent lifting weights to prepare for the shot put and the discus or if it referred to our considerable heft. I suspect it had more to do with the latter. While Kirk Johnson and the other guys were sprinting and puking, we were jogging and eating. Most of our group were wrestlers who had spent the winter months in forced starvation and thirst trying to make weight. If not lean, they certainly were hungry, and track season presented them with an opportunity to regain lost ground.
I knew something was fishy weeks earlier when the coaches proclaimed the inaugural "Weight Man Relay." Coach Hecksel, who suffered from having been born without a neck, and Coach Wellhausen, who had a beautiful daughter and was affectionately known as "The Gut, " would sit with the opposing coaches in the top row of the bleachers and laugh as their respective weight man quartets squared off in the 400 meter relay.
Each meet ended the same way: four coaches convulsing in laughter, and eight runners convulsing in nausea.
Ha ha ha.
We endured, though. And on this April day, giddy with thoughts of the prom and what's-her-name, I thought I would one-up "no neck" and "The Gut" once and for all. "Coach," I began as our bus turned off the interstate, "why not let me run the 400 meters today?" Coach Hecksel turned in his seat to better see me (no neck, remember), a look of astonishment written across his face. "Are you serious," he growled. "Yeah, I am. I want to be able to say I ran that race in my lifetime, even if only once." He and "The Gut" began a whispered conversation like doctors trying to decide who was going to tell a patient that he was terminal.
"Okay," he said, "if we're ahead in points you can do it."
I threw the discus with extra vigor that day. I put the shot further than ever before. I couldn't wait for the 400 meter dash. Finally the event arrived. "The Gut" called me over and said, "line up behind Johnson." I didn't even know you could do that. Kirk got down in the blocks, I got down behind him - not the view I had in mind, by the way - but I was running the 400 meters.
The gun went off and so did I. I shot forward and ran with everything that was in me. I held my own through the first turn. I was within striking distance with the others only a few yards ahead. As we rounded the second turn though, a breeze (read "hurricane") stood me up. So much for the spring
day. If coach was laughing, I'm sure God must have been on the floor at the sight of me facing the wind He cooked up. Slowly the pack pulled away - the "tink, tink, tink" of their spikes growing softer and softer until I was alone. Undiscouraged, I reasoned that this same gale might help me when I rounded the corner and headed down the home stretch. I could still have a respectable finish. I lumbered through the third and fourth turns and then - CRAMP!
I often wondered why runners spent so much time stretching before their races. I just always assumed they either weren't hungry, or that their girlfriends were on the softball team. Now I knew.
With head pounding and quadracep twitching and my Keds on fire, I limped forward. Rumbling through the last twenty meters, I glanced backward to see the guys behind me setting up the high hurdles for the next event. I felt like the final entry in the Walt Disney Parade of Lights - ten seconds after you see it, you can't even tell there has been a parade. I finished, though, in 75 seconds. The longest minute and one-fourth in my life.
Looking back it doesn't seem so bad . . . I guess. I imagine "The Gut" and "no-neck" drag that story out for a "remember when" moment from time to time and have a good laugh. Let 'em. They deserve it for putting up with me and my teammates.
The moral of the story: runners should run and weight men should lift weights. I had no business running the 400 meters because I wasn't gifted for it. How about you? Are you doing what God has gifted you to do?
Monday, June 20, 2005
Inside, though, I was beaming. What dad doesn't want to be his daughter's lifesaver. I am keenly aware that these special daddy-daughter moments are numbered. She doesn't call me daddy too often anymore - mostly "dad." Don't get me wrong. "Dad" sounds pretty good, but I still long for the pig-tail and ribbon days when I was The Man. You dads know what I mean.
A friend told me some time ago that the time comes when daughters look at their dads differently. Dad is no longer cool. In fact, he is a little embarrassing. The funny things that he used to do that made her giggle, now elicit a roll of the eyes and an I-can't-believe-we're-related sort of sigh. My friend's solution to the problem: whenever his daughter and her girlfriends are in the car with him he turns up the oldies station and sings at the top of his lungs. My kind of guy.
Still, there may be some truth in her words. Although I didn't save her life when I leaned over her to peck her on the cheek, I am the one who, together with her mom, gave her life. I am the source of her life. I am also the one who protects and nurtures her. And I
would die for her. Even though I'm pretty certain she has never thought, "Dad would die to save my life," she knows that she is safe when she is with me.
Abby is learning about another Father who did save her life by surrendering His own. This Father came to earth as God incarnate – God in the flesh. He took the name Jesus – the very name which means "salvation." He lived a life of perfection, showing Abby and all who want to be like Him how to have life, and not just life but abundant life. And then He died. Not a natural death. He didn't live to old age and die in His sleep. Jesus didn't die from some random accident. He died intentionally. Though without sin, Jesus said to Abby and to me . . . and to you . . . "I will pay the penalty for your sin." He said to His Father, "I know that your children cannot be in your presence if they are sinful, so I will take their sins to the cross with me, and there I will pay for them." Now that is love. In fact, it is an amazing love.
The truth is, I am amazed that Abby loves me. After all, I often lose my temper. I can't seem to help her with long division without both of us pulling our hair out. I am entirely unworthy of her amazing daughter-love. As amazing as my daughter’s love is, my Heavenly Father's love for me is even more incredible. And someday when they lay me down for the last time, and I awake to find my Daddy leaning over me to peck me on the cheek, I will look up at my Abba and say, "Daddy, you saved my life!" And, I'll be right. He has.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Funny the things you see on a school bus. I am a substitute driver, and this morning I enjoyed the company of some of the greatest kids in the world. I’m sure there is more to them than what I saw in the few minutes we shared on the way to school. I am able to see a lot, but I wonder what I often miss.
I wonder if am so busy with deadlines and duties that I miss seeing someone who is hurting. Jesus is never that way. I love what Matthew wrote about Jesus: "When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd." Jesus’ heart broke because he not only looked, but he saw.
Too often I look without seeing. I gaze without grasping.
How about you? Do you miss seeing people because you’re too preoccupied with profits? Too tyrannized by tasks? Has life become too frenzied for your friends? Maybe its time to step back and re-inventory your life a bit. Maybe you need to . . . wait, let me include myself in this . . . maybe we need to look a little longer and really see one another. When we do, I suspect we’ll all be a little more understanding and forgiving. A little more kind and compassionate. And when that happens, maybe this world will look a little more like the next one.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Just so you know, I am no wimp. Growing up on our family farm, the only time I can recall being really frightened was when I came face to face with a nest of rats in my uncle’s old barn. I used to think that a rat was the most terrifying animal God ever made – that is, before I met his flying cousin Mr. Bat.
I did the only thing I could think of. I made a hasty retreat into my study and called the church custodian. "Surely," I reasoned, "Necia will know what to do. After all, extermination is closer to her job description than mine." (Fear makes people think strange things.) Of course Necia thought I was a big baby. She was right. A few minutes later, her son, Troy, arrived ready to do battle with the flying mammal. We closed all the doors, taped a sheet of plastic over the foyer entrance and opened a window.
When the siege was laid, Troy threw a red
hymnal at the bat. The bat just laughed and sang We Shall Not be Moved. Troy tossed the hymnal again, missing the bat and nearly knocking the chandelier off the ceiling. Finally, I worked up the courage to try my luck at chucking the hymnal upward. I leafed through the songbook until I found Out of the Ivory Palaces, marked the page, and heaved it heavenward.
I hit the bat . . .at least Troy said I did. I was already half-way across the room before the bat took to flight. He fluttered everywhere in the room except out the window. As I cowered behind the piano, Troy shouted, "Herd him to the window, herd him to the window." “Exactly how does one herd a bat, anyway?”, I thought. Dazed by my assault-with-a-deadly-hymnal, the bat finally beached himself in the greenery above the baptistery. While I pinned it down with a fly swatter, Troy grasped the tip of each wing and, as the bat was singing Rescue the Perishing, escorted the creature to the open window and freedom.
Believe it or not, that is not the first bat I have ever seen in church. In fact, some church people are a lot like him. They show up every so often and hang around, but they never really do anything. Like their flying mammalian counterparts, they appear when you least expect them and leave just as suddenly. They don't make a lot of fuss, or disturb anything, but if you challenge them to leave their comfy perch and get involved in ministry, they disappear faster than a plate of cookies at Vacation Bible School.
God does not need that sort of Christian. God expects us to do something. Not that our salvation depends on it, mind you, but someone else's might. Too many Christians believe that it is enough to simply “show up for the game.” But the contest isn't won – and neither are the lost - when Christians remain on the sidelines. James reminds us that Christians cannot merely posses faith; we must exercise it.
How about you? Do you just "hang around" at church, or are you making a difference? Does somebody need to throw a songbook at you to get you moving, or are you moved by the plight of the people around you?
Recently, over 51,000 Christians from all over North America gathered in more than 250 churches to learn how they could be more involved in their churches' ministries. They decided to do something for Christ. One does not have to attend a seminar to get involved in ministry, however. Joining this game merely requires leaving the bench. If you've been hanging around, perched in one spot, not involved in ministry, come and join the fray. I promise not to throw any hymnals.
Friday, June 03, 2005
The reality of this unmerited favor didn't set in right away. In fact, it wasn't until we strolled down pit lane that the full measure of this grace hit me. My friends and I were ambling from the south end of the pits northward, taking our time, looking at cars, and trying to look like we belonged. Off to my left I heard my name, faintly at first, and then more insistent. "Frank!" the voice shouted. I looked to my left, and there was a guy from our church, Keith Smith, smiling and holding his camera. He came down out of the bleachers, and we had a nice chat! We visited and then went on our separate ways.
Interestingly enough, I began to feel guilty about our encounter. You see, there was a ten or fifteen foot high fence separating the two of us as we spoke. I was on "the inside", able to walk among the pit crews and drivers, and he was on "the outside," separated from all of that by a wire mesh barrier. It didn't seem quite fair that I had access to the places where only the privileged and the powerful dare walk. I mean, after all, Keith loves the 500 every bit as much as I do - probably more. He even thought to bring a camera (something I and my three companions somehow forgot to do). He has been there dozens of times, and I have been there only a few. Was it fair that I got to sit in the air conditioned suite watching all four turns on color televisions while Keith sweated it out on the aluminum bleachers? In a word - no. It's not fair. I didn't deserve to be on "the right side" of the fence. What I deserved was to be out there on "the wrong side" with Keith and the other paying customers.
But, that's the way it works sometimes, isn't it. We've all been in the bleachers at one time or another, looking down at folks just like us who, for some reason unknown to us, get to do the things we wish we could do.
He got the promotion I deserved. She made the cheerleading squad when everyone knows I can cheer better. Dad bought her a new Grand Prix; all I got was a used minivan. My son gets sick and dies and his bratty child is as healthy as a horse. Life is supremely unfair sometimes, and it would be tempting for us to pray that God would use His divine power to make things a little more fair.
Thank God he does not. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, "The payment for sin is death, but the gift that God freely gives is everlasting life found in Christ Jesus our Lord." If things were fair, our sin would earn us exactly what we deserve - eternal separation from God. An eternity on "the wrong side of the fence." I don't know about you, but I thank God He is not fair in dealing with me.
In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of a poor man named Lazarus and a wealthy man who both die and are sent to their respective "sides of the fence." Lazarus went to heaven while the wealthy man descended into hell's flames. Two men. In life, one was on "the right" side of the fence with wealth and prosperity, and the other on "the wrong" side with nothing but his ill health. But in eternity the picture is far different. The one so poor in life is now prosperous in death, and this life's prince becomes the next life's pauper.
On which side of the fence do you reside? On which side will you spend eternity? I got to eat fried chicken and drink Diet Coke and watch racing for a whole day because I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. And to be completely honest, the only way you and I will get to spend eternity on the "right side of the fence" is if we know someone. And that someone is Jesus Christ.