Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Standing on the shoulders of . . . Ron Otto

Ron Otto stopped by this morning for a visit. My predecessor at South Lansing Christan Church, Ron was youth minister when he arrived here in 1993. When he left for Lincoln, Illinois sixteen years later he left behind a legacy of outstanding preaching, impassioned evangelism, and a new building near the corner of Aurelius and Miller Roads.

To be completely frank, and that is what Frankly Speaking is all about, following a man of Ron's stature was a bit intimidating to me when I came to South last August. The guy can preach! His people skills are without peer. He is able to inspire and motivate people to action like few other preachers I know. The cool thing is that Ron has done the same for me.

I never leave his presence without a couple new ideas that I am eager to try out. I know that he has been one of my biggest supporters here at South - both to me personally, and behind the scenes with those I know.

We often needle one another. Ron is just that kind of guy. He greases people and laughs when they dish it right back. But seriously, Ron is a guy that I respect and admire. And just in case I've never told you that, I thought you should know.

Your preacher wears pantyhose

Two decades ago I wore pantyhose. But only at Christmas time. It was not a fetish, just festive. I should explain; as a student at Great Lakes Christian College I participated in the Madrigal singers. Fellow GLCC Alum, Eric Sherman, dug up this old video of me and my fellow singers. This was shot for public access cable and, as it turns out, was sponsored by the church where I am now the preacher. Go figure. Oh. In case you're wondering, I am the one in the pink aluminum foil.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

The Franklies are headed off to South Lansing Christian Church in a little bit for Christmas Eve service. We'll get home about 1 A.M. and crash, waking up six or so hours later to a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon. Then, with our appetites sated and our hearts warmed, we'll gather around the fireplace to open gifts. I love it.

What will you be doing the next twelve hours or so?

What gift are you expecting to receive?

What gift are you most excited about giving?

The gift of God incarnate - timeless, priceless, and precious - of all the blessings we celebrate this time of year, He is the gift that really matters.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our church rocks!

I started to write a lengthy post about how proud I am of the folks who stepped up today to meet the need I wrote about in this post. Then I got to thinking about the whole, "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing thing" and deleted it.

You folks know who you are and what you did. More importantly, you know for Whom you did it.

Your preacher just wanted you all to know that I am proud of you . . .

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Two for the family . . .

My missionary sister sent a couple of photos from my niece, Laura's, birthday that I wanted to share with friends and family. Yes, that is a fan on the left of the photo. It is ninety plus degrees where they live - unlike here where there are ten inches of snow on the ground and the wind chill is in the teens.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A divine appointment . . . by patrol car.

My friend Dean Trune tells all of these astonishing stories about the divine appointments that God puts in his path. I've often wondered why I don't have more of those, or maybe I just am too dense to recognize them when they appear.

Last night I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had me right where he wanted me. As a volunteer chaplain for Lansing Police Department, I ride along with officers once a month (sometimes more). Yesterday I was riding with Officer Smith (I've changed the names here) when we received a call that a babysitter called 911. She had become overwhelmed, was holding a knife, and was threatening to hurt herself or the babies she was watching.

For the first time since I've been a chaplain we drove with lights and sirens. I stopped looking at the speedometer when it went north of 90 miles per hour. When we got to the townhouse, we were grateful to learn that the young woman had safely located the children to an upstairs bedroom, placed the knife in the kitchen sink, and was waiting for us to arrive.

As the officers talked with the babysitters, I went upstairs to play with the children. There was a little boy and a baby girl. The girl was crying and had a runny nose. She had spit up her spaghetti dinner all over her brother's mattress. I cleaned her up, puts some pants on her and gave her a teddy bear. The boy, who was three-years-old, was a lot of fun. Little Jonathon and I played with cars together. We read a book and rolled the cars back and forth on the hardwood floor.

After a while I took the children downstairs to watch some television. I asked the babysitter the little girl's name. (Little Jonathon couldn't pronounce it.) When the babysitter told me her unique name I realized why the little boy looked so familiar. Both of these children used to attend South Lansing Christian Church along with their parents. Their dad ran off about six months ago leaving mom to raise the two little ones alone. She moved a couple of times and our church lost track of them.

After I settled the little ones down to watch Bob the Builder I roamed around the townhouse. This three bedroom town house had no furniture. For the past six months, this family has been living with only a small dresser, a twin mattress and a baby-crib mattress. Aside from a television and a telephone, they have nothing else. Literally. Nothing else. No couches or chairs. No kitchen table. No end tables. No appliances. Nothing.

Now here is the thing that makes this such a divine appointment. Several months ago an apartment building around the corner from the church burned. Our church began collecting furniture to donate to people who had lost all their furnishings. With our pole building bursting with furniture we called the Red Cross to begin the distribution. The Red Cross told us that The Salvation Army had the distribution list. When we called The Salvation Army, they told us that the Red Cross had the list. The fact is, nobody had a list, and we had a pole barn full of furniture that we couldn't get rid of. And, we didn't know why.

Now I do. Sunday afternoon a team of deacons from South are loading up a trailer full of furniture and taking it to this family. Others are donating food. A Sunday school class is going to donate some funds that we can use to get some Christmas gifts (and maybe a tree) for the little ones.

All because I rode with a cop. At the exact time God wanted me to. Cool. Very cool.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Your sins . . . made public?!

A Florida church is catching flack for their elders' decision to publicly announce to the congregation that one of their members is having pre-marital sex with her boyfriend. The 49-year-old woman, who is divorced from her husband, was told by Grace Community Church to stop sleeping with her new beau. She refused. Under pressure from Grace Community Church, she decided to withdraw her membership and is now attending elsewhere.

On January 4th the church leadership plans, in accordance with their understanding of scripture, to "tell it to the church." The scripture the church references is Matthew 18:15-17:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Church discipline is a sticky wicket. (Check out this Wall Street Journal article on the subject.) The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of Frankly Speaking readers that are considerably smarter than this author. So here are a couple of questions for which I would love to read your answers:

Is this a correct application of Matthew 18?

Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you . . ." How does that apply in this instance?

Finally, how does Galatians 6:1, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." fit into all of this?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hotcakes, cars and clocks: Weller's theory of time relativity

Yesterday I breakfasted with Brian. I explained my theory of why time seems to fly over a meal of pecan-raisin pancakes at Flapjack Restaurant. But first, let me explain how, between mouthfuls of steaming hotcakes smothered in (sugar-free) syrup, the subject came up.

Brian mentioned that his oldest grandson is seventeen and carrying a newly-minted driver's license in his wallet. As it happens, the oldest of the Franklies is seventeen herself and has recently taken to the road. (She nearly spun out, in fact, on the way home from her High School Christmas concert last night, but correctly corrected and made her way home like a real life Michigan driver - which she is, of course.)

Anyway, both Brian and I were feeling a little bit sentimental as we talked about how quickly time has passed. Just yesterday my daughter was tooling around in a Little Tykes coupe with red fenders and a yellow roof. Made of plastic, the body resisted all attempts at dents and dings. Today she drives around in one of Detroit's finest. Interstate, inner-city - she does fine in any environment except perhaps dirt roads, which she has not yet had the occasion to drive on. (Except for those times when she was thirteen and I would let her drive our old Astro minivan the back way from Butler to the Koeppe farm - but don't tell her mother.)

Back to breakfast. Brian said to me, "I can't believe how quickly time flies."

"I have a theory about that," I replied.

"Let's have it."

"It is like this: When you're six years old and you're waiting for Christmas to come, or you're waiting for the big day when you finally get to ride the school bus, it seems like time drags on. That is because a month is a significant percentage of your total life experience.

"It seems like it takes forever for you to turn ten years old because one year, when you are only nine, is over ten percent of your lifetime. When you're forty-one like me, though, one year is less than 2.5% of your total life experience. It's not that time passes more quickly, it is just that it seems to because your perception of the future is compared to your experience of the past. It is the same reason why almost everyone looks back on their childhood as 'the good old days' when life seemed to move at a slower pace.

"In other words, I consider Christmas coming in just over a week and I think, 'it is just a blink away.' My four-year-old goddaughter, however, thinks it will never get here. We view time differently."

Consider that in light of eternity.

Earlier this week our church laid to rest a thirty-seven-year-old woman who passed away from cancer. Tammy left behind a loving husband and five children ages sixteen months to fourteen years. For her husband, Chris, and her children, I imagine it seems like it will be a very long time until they are able to see her again. And, for the youngest of her family, that time will seem to pass more slowly, especially right now. Chris enjoyed fourteen years with his wife. Their infant son knew her less than two. Sadly, they likely will spend far more time without Tammy than with her - at least here on earth.

Except for this - Tammy is a Christ-follower. So is her husband and their three oldest children. I expect the littlest two will be, too. And so I was able to say with confidence at her funeral:
You're going to spend far more years with Tammy than without her. Heaven is forever, friends. And even if all of us live to a ripe old age, living decades here on earth without Tammy, that time is only a fraction of a whisper of a moment compared to the time that you will spend with her in Heaven.
It seems like the time between now and when we are finally at home in Heaven ticks by ever so slowly. And yet, viewed from the lens of eternity, say, a million years from now, this life is "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." And, on freezing, snow-covered days like today, I am glad for that.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lose the smile, you're in Indiana!

WRTV 6 is running a story that details my home state of Indiana's decision to disallow smiling for driver's licenses. Yes, you read that correctly. Hoosiers can no longer smile when their driver's license photos are snapped.

More troubling than the grinch-ification of the Indiana BMV, however, is their reasoning. Indiana's new facial recognition software recognizes specific facial features so that, ostensibly, identity theft becomes more difficult. More disconcerting to me, however, is how much the whole thing smacks of Big Brother. (The literary figure, kids, not the reality show.) Do we really want to record and codify the facial features of every person applying for a driver's license in Indiana? Makes for a handy database if government ever decides to become, say, intrusive or heavy handed. Not that government would ever do that - at least not any time soon, right?

I don't know. Maybe the folks at the BMV are right. Then again, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles was ushered into the "modern era" by Joel Silverman, the former Jock-strap salesman that Governor Mitch Daniels hired away from Galyan's, a failed chain of Indianapolis Sporting Good's stores. Silverman's brief bureaucratic career was, in many people's minds, accurately characterized by my then twelve-year-old daughter shortly after she heard him speak at a town hall meeting back in Butler, Indiana. When I asked her what her impression was of Silverman she gave a one-word answer: "Loser!"

The BMV systematically dismantled their delivery service over the course of the several years by closing local branches all over the state of Indiana despite the clear wishes of Indiana taxpayers. That the same BMV is banning smiling doesn't surprise the Hoosiers I've spoken with. Given the way the BMV has been administered over the years, they stopped smiling long ago.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Three dollars, and worth every penny . . .

I am reading Bob Greene's book, Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents. I came across it in Big Lots the other day while Mrs. Frankly was shopping for . . . whatever it was she was shopping for. I loved Greene's Once Upon a Town, so I picked it up. By the time Tracy found me reading in some recliner destined to become a Christmas gift for someone's lucky husband, I had already chewed through the first chapter.

Greene interviewed five former Presidents for the book: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. It is the best $3 read I've ever bought. Here is a snippet from the book in which Greene considers the toughness of veteran combat pilots George H. W. Bush (41) and Geroge McGovern, who unsuccessfully ran for the office that Bush eventually attained:
I've always thought that there should be an unwritten rule for those of us who were born after World War II: Whenever you meet an old combat pilot from the war, you are automatically disqualified from thinking that your life could possibly measure up to his. He beat you before you blinked in the light. Yet somehow Bush - and McGovern - had been judged by millions of their countrymen, and by commentators who had never heard a shot fired in anger, as if they were lifelong croquet players, badminton aficianados, instead of men who, when it counted, piloted bombers against the enemy during the greatest war in the history of human conflict.
Both Georges, and millions of other men and women just like them, deserve our thanks. And, in a smaller - but no less sincere way - Bob Greene has earned mine.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

God, after all . . .

After hearing Paul Harvey, Jr. on the way to work this morning, I couldn't wait to get to his website and dig more deeply into the subject he illuminated. (Click on the Tuesday morning update link to listen.)

Harvey explained a recent article from Discover Magazine. Discover is a scientific journal. That's important to know, because the article has some pretty big theological implications. Were it published in . . . say Christianity Today, I have no doubt it would have been pilloried by naturalistic pundits world-wide. It may still be, however, because the conclusions that physicists quoted in the article have reached fly in the face of modern scientific thought. Consider these quotes:
"Our universe is perfectly tailored for life. That may be the work of God or the result of our universe being one of many."

"Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us."

"On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave physicists? 'If there is only one universe,' Carr says, 'you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.' "
The multiverse theory suggests that there are other universes, with their own laws of physics - and that our universe just happened to have physical laws that support life as we know it. Whether or not there are multiple universes I cannot know. But the fact that this universe is so finely tuned leads me to believe that there must be a Being with a hand on the knob that does the tuning.

Consider these "Cosmic Coincidences." Author Tim Folger writes, "If these cosmic traits were just slightly altered, life as we know it would be impossible." A few examples:
Stars like the sun produce energy by fusing two hydrogen atoms into a single helium atom. During that reaction, 0.007 percent of the mass of the hydrogen atoms is converted into energy, via Einstein’s famous e = mc2 equation. But if that percentage were, say, 0.006 or 0.008, the universe would be far more hostile to life. The lower number would result in a universe filled only with hydrogen; the higher number would leave a universe with no hydrogen (and therefore no water) and no stars like the sun.

The early universe was delicately poised between runaway expansion and terminal collapse. Had the universe contained much more matter, additional gravity would have made it implode. If it contained less, the universe would have expanded too quickly for galaxies to form.

Had matter in the universe been more evenly distributed, it would not have clumped together to form galaxies. Had matter been clumpier, it would have condensed into black holes.

Atomic nuclei are bound together by the so-called strong force. If that force were slightly more powerful, all the protons in the early universe would have paired off and there would be no hydrogen, which fuels long-lived stars. Water would not exist, nor would any known form of life.
My mind is pea-sized compared to the scientists that Folger quotes in his article. And yet, the most important lesson I learned about physics was at the knee of Erma Kees in the first grade: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Bang! God spoke and it was so. At the risk of sounding smug (and I honestly do not mean to), it is nice to see that science is finally catching up.