Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Own Private Idaho

Yeah... I'm faced with yard work and 96-degree temperatures (yesterday, a friend of mine mentioned that she was looking at apartments in better climates because this early heat wave has just served notice we have four more months of this and she's not sure she can take it)...

...I needed to take a little digital vacation. A happy place, if you will. Or, in this case, happy places.

You can go to the New York Times "31 Places To Go This Summer and take a little virtual road trip around North America.

The only question I'd have is why anyone would go to a city in a desert (outside of the obvious Vegas trip) and the Times seems to give a little love to those places and they have an obvious crush on the Pacific Northwest (which I get).

So, take the little minivacation, patrons, and tell me what you'd subtract and what you'd add from their tour...

Friday, May 30, 2008

New Music Friday!!!

I've been on quite a drought when it comes to music purchases. Well, for me, anyway. I usually wind up with new music about once a month or so...and I'm at that time of summer when I'm feeling like I should get something new loaded up on the Pod. So, today is your chance to expose Diner patrons to some new music they should check get five. And five only. 5 little $0.99 jolts that should enhance our jump into June.

Here's mine, but I'm warning you, it might be a little on the melancholy side for some reason:

"Daughter" by Loudon Wainwright III. I don't know what it is about this song but somehow it expresses those realities that only a dad of daughters can have. Simple, but really beautiful.

"Highways and Cigarettes" by Son Volt. I've always thought the world would be a better place if the alt-country band Son Volt made it big. Dallas folks might be aware of a similar sound from locals The Old 97's. But this song is great.

"Whiskey" by Raleigh. One of my former students is the drummer for this local band. Interestingly, their CD "The House on Seedling Lane" is incredibly diverse. Check 'em out on MySpace or iTunes.

"Cut Your Hair" by Pavement. Don't you hate it when you're late to the game and a band somebody told you was awesome and they've already broken up? I can't believe how incredible this band was, and I'm kind of bummed that the members have all moved on to other projects.

"Something to Believe In" by The Pretenders. When anybody tells me that the 80's had lousy music, I tell people they were looking in the wrong places, man. There was some fantastic stuff that will stand the test of time, and this is a remake of a Ramones song that they actually did a better job than the original. The Pretenders had one of the top 100 albums of all-time (Learning to Crawl, for the uninitiated) and you can tell they'd mastered the craft by the time they remade this song...lots of nuances that made the band unique are all right here in one song. Chrissy Hynde is brilliant.

So, there's mine...what've you got for the rest of us?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quote I Read Yesterday

On my day off I read. A lot.

Here's a thought provoker from early on in Tim Keller's book, "The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.".

"A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe what they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a skeptic. A person's faith can collapse overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection."

Want some more?

"I think these younger Christians are the vanguard of some major new religious, social and political arrangements that could make the older form of culture wars obsolete. After they wrestle with doubts and objections to Christianity many come out on the other side with an orthodox faith that doesn't fit the current categories of liberal Democrat or conservative Republican...The new fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than the Democrats have been."

And...that's just the introduction, folks. Have at it, patrons.
Labor Day?

My friends Wes & Lizzie got a 3AM wake-up call this morning. They headed off to the labor & delivery room for the express reason labor & delivery rooms exist. In the current world, I got this information via Facebook, and I've texted them a couple of times already. Things appear to be going swimmingly thus far and, in the words of Juno MacGuff, "THUNDERCATS are GOOOOO!" (we forgive Juno for messing it up...the Thundercats actually said, "Hooooo" and/or the Thunderbirds were GOOOOO). I'm not too sure I ever get used to the reality that students I discipled, who worked for & with me, who I officiated their wedding and watched them launch into life together, are now having babies.

Anyway, I got to thinking we could help out my friend Wes with advice about the mistakes we made in the labor & delivery room.

Here's a few bits of advice:

Don't mention that the television doesn't have the cable channel you wanted to watch.
Don't tell your wife that according to the machine that last contraction wasn't as big as the one 3 minutes ago.
Don't gripe when the "new father concession area" is out of cherry popsicles and you had to settle for grape.
Don't come into the room with the cup of soda that advertises your wife's favorite deli restaurant after lunch there, and she's been in labor since 4AM.
Don't mention the discomfort of the chair you're sitting in.

Believe me, I did much better the 2nd time...I only left the state on a job interview 10 hours after the baby was born.

So, what advice would you give my friend to make his morning go more smoothly? Hurry, he's claiming he'll be a dad by noon.
Margaux Update

Yeah, you get these from time to time. My niece, aboard barnstorming brother-in-law Shane's shoulders, somewhere in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Case Closed?

The injustice still stings, man. And Auburn fans will never forget it.

The 2004 team.

They went unbeaten. They ran the table in the SEC. They didn't get the chance to play for college football's national championship.

I won't bore you again with the details of how Oklahoma didn't deserve the chance to play U.S.C. for it all that year (or, for that matter, U.S.C.'s claim that winning the weak Pac-10 gives them a free pass to play for it all...I mean, maybe the game of the year should've been AU vs. OU)...or that Auburn's #1 ranked defense easily would've given USC a better game than the Swiss cheese OU threw out there against the Trojans.

But, as time goes on...more and more people are waking up to what Auburn fans knew all along:

That Auburn 2004 team was ranked as the best SEC team of the 10-year BCS era by Ahead of LSU's 2003 team (that somehow, people remember USC winning the national championship that year but the BCS champion was LSU) and ahead of the 1998 Tennessee team that won the national championship.

As far as what we knew back then that people are coming around to, a quote from Chris Low, their article writer:

"I vividly remember that Auburn team," Low said. "I covered a lot of their games that year. Auburn was my pick (as best team for the list) from the get-go. Their defense only gave up 134 points (in the regular season), which is the lowest in the BCS era, and that defense was so fast. All anyone has to do is look at the numbers."

"Plus, they had the two best running backs in the league in the same backfield (Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown), a quarterback (Jason Campbell) that was a first-round pick in the (NFL) draft and a cornerback (Carlos Rogers) who was a first-round pick too. Another thing that stood out to me about that team is when they were left out (of the national title game) they still took care of business by going down and winning the (Sugar) bowl game. That would have been an easy game to lose."

For AU fans, that team & season never gets old.

And we never will get over getting screwed.
Hump Day?

I've been chastised at work about not taking my vacation days, "spiritual refreshment days" and my Mondays. See, because Monday is my off-day, I can "lose" those holidays that fall on a Monday. Like Memorial Day or Labor Day. You get what I'm saying, right? Normally, I stockpile those, forget about them, and then the end of the year rolls around and I wind up never taking them.

I'm not alone in this. I wonder what it is about where I work that leads to (but certainly discourages) workaholic tendencies. All the folks I work with have similar stories.

Anyway, they started encouraging us to take the Monday days we normally stockpile in the week that we have the Monday. I have a busy rest of the week...

...but I'm taking today off.

It feels peculiar...and I'm not exactly sure what to do with it all.

But I know that a nap will be involved and the Rangers play a day game at 11:40AM. Outside of that, I'm open for suggestions.
For The Girls Who Know What Wine Goes With A PBJ...

I figured my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly and my smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife might need this information.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that when your 16-year-old daughter left the house five minutes ago, and you hear sirens (even if they aren't coming from the direction she'd be going), you get three seconds of free terror and 25 minutes of taking your thoughts captive.
...not trying to be presumptuous, but for those that asked, you can download my Sunday sermon here.
...our Texas Rangers can't seem to get over the .500 hump, losing the last three times they had the chance.
...I'm pretty excited about my new e-team starting tomorrow morning, even if it is 6AM.
...that, for some strange reason, I'm not at all worried about the violence in Juarez lately and I'm sending both my kids there in two weeks. Maybe because I've been there and know how remote they'll be, as well as the reality that they won't be involved in the drug trade or enforcement side of it.
...I miss Margaux. I feel like I'm missing out on some pretty important stuff. Stuff uncles need to be a part of.
...that when you hear somebody on television say that they, "I really just need to get away and do nothing on a beach with my toes in the sand," you know precisely what they mean.
...that our student ministry's senior speeches are this Sunday night, and it seems very surreal that I'm an invited guest to the meeting instead of host for the night.
...that I wish Son Volt was invited to the Outside Lands Festival I'm going to in August. I "shuffled" all their songs yesterday doing yard work and remembered what a consistently good band they are.
...that I'm reading two books about God. One denies the existence of any supreme being, and the other defends the premise of a personal God. It's kinda cool to be reading a chapter at a time of each.
...that there's something cool about the boss not being in the office for 10 days, even if we're hardly the kind of people or have the kind of jobs to just blow off, it just feels like it's more free.
...that it hit me, that instead of developing a deep curriculum to replace the one our church used to use, why not just teach Galatians and Romans exegetically?
...I couldn't find the movie "So, I Married An Axe Murderer" anywhere yesterday. I went to three places, but I haven't checked the used DVD place at the other shopping mall yet.
...that I think the early start to the 95-degree temperatures (it's 10 degrees hotter than average) has already made me dread going outside. It's too early, man. I'm not ready, and believe me, it takes a while to get mentally prepared for 60 consecutive days where it never goes below 80.
...Auburn's football team has been picked #8 by one of those pre-season magazines to start the season. For those of you that know, we do much better when we're picked around #20. It's rare my Tigers rise to expectations--they relish the underdog role.
...that I really don't think it's all that evil to walk through the room and pet the dog or call his name if he got his sleep patterns backwards last night and woke me up four times to play/go outside. Turnabout's fair play on this deal, if you're asking me.
...that, even with the boss out of the country in Russia, I still need to get to the office. I've got a bunch of work to do.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sometimes, Thank You Isn't Enough, But It's All You've Got

today's Heart of the City comic

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Well, It WAS Newsworthy...

Around 10:10 last night I was watching the NBC 5 newscast, and one of the stories was about the city of Arlington's new dog park opening. I like dogs. I like community in most of the forms it takes. So, I was happy.

Now, for those of you who don't know, Arlington is the official DFW playground. It has geography going for it, pretty much equidistant between Dallas and Fort Worth. It has been the beneficiary of good politics, too: Arlington's citizens have given tax breaks for entertainment dollars to pour in. Located off a major interstate and several highway arteries, they've snagged the Texas Rangers ballpark, the Dallas Cowboys new stadium, and major amusements like Six Flags over Texas and Wet 'N Wild water park. There are many others on a much smaller scale.

Anyway, the news story mentioned the opening of the new attraction and showed video of happy dogs & owners enjoying it. Who doesn't like video of dogs running around? I was still happy.


...the news-anchor mentioned that the name of the dog park, Tails & Trails, was voted on by the citizens of Arlington. Not that it's a bad name, mind you. But that Tails & Trails got more votes than...


Are you kidding me?

Arlington, you had a chance to name your dog park Six Wags and you chose Tails & Trails. I don't think it's even close, man.

But, apparently, I'm in the minority. I voiced this travesty to my smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife, and she immediately let me know about four reasons why the one the people voted for was better. Kid2 concurred.

So, I guess I'll just have to go along with the reality that democracy has spoken. But, oh, man. I think the good folks of Arlington blew this one.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

But Still The Dreams Come...

More often than not, I have no recollection of my dreams once morning rolls around. I don't remember what happened or if they were in color or not or anything. Nothing. But somebody told me that you always have them.

Anyway, when I do remember my dreams I like to go to the dream interpretation site "" Don't get me wrong, here, folks. I don't take it any more seriously than the newspaper horoscope obtuse or when the folks at Starbucks tell me I can get my personal tea-leaf reading at "" It's pretty much a time-waste.

So, today I remembered a snippet from my dream. Tracy and I were house-hunting in another subdivision in our town (which is peculiar because that last thing I want is a bigger house & yard. I'm looking to downsize ASAP, man. The less upkeep, the better if you ask me)--I know it was our town because the realtor asked us why we were looking for a house so close to our current one--but the house was pretty much in "normal" open house mode. It wasn't run-down or immaculate. It was just a normal house in a normal subdivision. I remember thinking we'd have to get them to come way down off the asking price, though. It was too pricey for what we could afford.

And the house was equipped with two of those really cool stainless-steel refrigerators in the kitchen. Both closed, but they looked really cool, man.

So, here's what the folks at dreammoods have as their basic interpretation:

"Dreams relating to a house often refers to various aspects of the Self. When trying to analyze the house in your dream, consider also how the house is kept and the condition of it. The rooms in the house relates to facets of your personality.

To see a house in your dream, represents your own soul and self. Specific rooms in the house indicate a specific aspect of your psyche. In general, the attic represents your intellect, the basement represents the unconscious, etc.

Alternatively, the old house may symbolize your need to update your mode of thinking.

To see a kitchen in your dream, signifies your need for warmth and spiritual nourishment. It may also be symbolic of the nurturing mother. Alternatively the kitchen, represents a transformation.

To see or open a refrigerator in your dream, represents your chilling personality and/or cold emotions. The dream may also be telling you need to put some goal, plan, or situation on hold. Alternatively, it signifies that you have found and accomplished what you have been unconsciously seeking."

Okay, patrons. What do you think my dreams are trying to tell me?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Captive Audience

Kid2's ballet company had their year-end recital last night (yes, I'll post photos as soon as the smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife lets me have a few from her stash). I was excited to be going for a couple of reasons. First, it's always cool to see your daughter do what she loves doing, and it's nice to see how much progress she's made in the last year.

Second, it's pretty cool to see the past & future at these things. You know, you watch the little girls in their cute costumes execute the biggest move they know--holding hands and more or less skipping in unison in a circle--and then you get to see the more advanced begin to look like professionals. You kind of see where your kid has been (and, let's face it, those kids are really cute) and where they want to get to.

Finally, you get to be a proud parent and hang out with other proud parents. All-in-all, it's a very enjoyable time for me. Plus, I get to give my daughter a bouquet of flowers when it's all said and done, and the kiss on the cheek I get in return makes the money/time/sacrifice well worth it.

Anyway, the drawback is the drive to Fort Worth in afternoon traffic. I have to be honest here: There's no good way to get to anything in Dallas or Fort Worth from where I live at certain times of the day. 121 to 35-W...forget it at 5PM. 1171 to 35-W to 30? It took me 35 minutes to get out of Flower Mound (traffic here is getting awful on major roads--especially the one in front of my church). Another hour to the Will Rogers Auditorium. Ugh.

I wasn't looking forward to the drive, man. Kid1 had to hurry home on her daily commute to/from downtown Dallas. Skip dinner. Drive. I'd prepared mentally...but couldn't help but think of about a million other things I needed to be doing with that time (yeah, true to form, the sermon has fallen apart...nothing I can't fix in a couple of hours, but it would've been nice to have that time to do it and get it behind me) and had resigned myself to listening to an hour and a half of sportstalk radio.

Well, I decided to make small talk with Kid1 as the sports chatter was about the NBA and I couldn't care less about that.

Well, she decided to make small talk become large talk.

We talked about our church.
We talked about our walks with Christ.
We talked about what that "looks" like.
We talked about how we both fit into what Christ is doing around us.
We talked about areas we need to get our acts together.

It seemed like I blinked and we were at the auditorium.

And the bonus I got yesterday was how perceptive Kid1 is. Not much gets past our children, folks.
I got to see Kid1's heartbeat on life and living it.
I got to see Kid1 in the stages of making her faith her very own.
I got to see Kid1 looking at life with her unique eyes.
I got to see Kid1 willing to chat about her warts and being okay with some of mine.

And then I got to see Kid2 deliver the goods I was expecting.

Sometimes, the greatest days are found in the mundane.

Especially when the mundane is followed by the spectacular. And yesterday, I got both.

It was grand.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'm Not Their Target Audience, But It Wouldn't Suck If I Were

Most people in FloMo tell people that our fair burg is "about 15 miles north of Dallas." We glom on to Dallas, when the truth is that we're equally as close to Fort Worth. No offense to the fair city of Fort Worth, but there's something that seems more desirable to associate with Dallas.

Anyway, every now and then I'll make an impluse buy at the grocery store checkout line and grab a copy of the most current issue of D Magazine. I consider it a little $4.50 donation to feel somewhat "with it" for about 10 minutes.

But it only takes a few moments for me to realize that I'm not at all their target audience.

There are ads for art and collectibles auctions.

Jewelers claiming to be the area's finest designer jeweler.

An ad looking for 122 potential owners of luxury residential high-rise condos that will "transform, yet graciously complement" the Dallas skyline. I can't afford to roll 1.2 million for 1,500 square feet to live here. Since when did our city compete with Manhattan in real estate costs?

There are socialites that go to parties and places that my circle of friends don't really go to.

There are articles about millionaires who talk about "liquidity events" (where they cash-out of stocks to retire) and "investments of passion" (where they buy a $400,000 sports car there's an 8-month waiting list for). Suffice to say that in my world a "liquidity event" is when my wife makes sweet tea and the last "investment of passion" we made was for a new air-conditioning unit the same month we re-did the bathrooms.

There are vacation destinations listed that I know I'll never see except in these pictures.

There are financial planners I'll never need.

To me, this is like looking at a hard-copy of that MTV show "Cribs." In so many ways, it's like a really good work of fiction...that it's based in truth somewhere but can't really be "real," can it?

So, I started thinking about what FloMo Magazine might contain...

You know, social pages loaded with pictures of soccer moms with folding chairs watching practice.
The three-story high-rise new office complex.
The next guy that purchased a $35,000 Harley-Davidson with a whole bunch of leather clothes.
The best landscaping companies to use for your yard.
The big contribution to the "arts": A new concession stand for band parents to man at the football field.

What else should we put in the next edition of FloMo Magazine?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sermon Prep

Most of you know the drill by now.

But here's the warp & woof of my sermon preparation (in a very human sense, leaving out the terribly convicting times of prayer and personal introspection, which can be both painful and encouraging and is all too intimate for Diner discussion):

Step 1: To recoil and answer, "No." The question is usually phrased thusly, "Hey, Brent. Would you like to teach from the pulpit on May 25." The question is usually re-phrased thusly, "Would you be willing to serve by teaching from the pulpit on May 25?" The answer to the re-phrase is always, "Yes." Words mean things.

Step 2: Spend two weeks mulling over the topic. I kick around all sorts of ideas on the topic at-hand. From Scriptures to use to illustrations that might work to needs our church body has to songs that fit to the amount of time for all of the above. This will border on obsession. Read the chapter you're speaking on again and again. Begin reading commentaries.

Step 3: Pay close attention to the sermon on Sunday & listen to it again on Mp3. Begin thinking through transitions from last week to this week.

Step 4: Sermon week, Monday. It's my day off. Stay incredibly busy doing menial tasks as you're trying to have some semblance of an off-day and purposely avoiding thinking about the sermon. Yard work. Dishes. Keep radios on so as to focus on the plight of a local sports team rather than the sermon. Watch mindless television (re: pretty much all of it). Go to bed early, but have weird dreams and don't sleep well.

Step 5: Sermon week, Tuesday. It's a busy day of meetings. A late-morning one and a mid-afternoon one. At both meetings, you'll try to focus on the topics, but the reality is that you're wishing you were back in your office studying. People will talk about things very important to their particular ministry and you're looking right at them but thinking about illustrations on what it looks like when people "bite & devour" one another. And added wrinkle for this particular week: You'll have to excuse yourself from the mid-afternoon one because you're feeling nauseous. That "feeling" will come to fruition and you'll hope it's just a bug rather than the stomach flu. You can't do the reading you'd wanted as you're still a little lightheaded.

Step 6: Sermon week, Wednesday. You'll wake up relieved because it apparently was a bug rather than the flu. Blog extensively to avoid thinking about it too much. But, you have full-throttle excitement of a day ahead full of nothing but a closed door, a library full of shelves of books to browse, post-it notes full of illustrations that might work, ideas that might go somewhere, insights that really might be helpful for people. It'll be 8 to 5 of nothing but potential...and very enjoyable. You'll drive home thinking you might be on to something.

Step 7: Sermon week, Thursday. The notes are due to the office staff and requests for slides and anything else (like movie clips or song CD's, etc.) need to be in by noon. This helps the entire staff do their jobs better. It could be pushed back if you get any emergencies on Wednesday that require personal pastor-type involvement, but ideally, you'll have it done by then. The office staff will be very nice and tell you that they think it all looks good and it's coming together. The afternoon is spent scripting it all out. You realize it's too long. You might have to cut the exposition of that text by about 3 minutes, but that will wreck the whole point of the movie clip or illustration. Where else to cut? What else to emphasize or de-emphasize? Maybe there's another text that allows you to do both! But, wait. That's not what the writer emphasized in that text. Drive home biting your lip and wondering why you didn't just say you couldn't do it when they asked you to preach. Hope that The Office gives you a respite from thinking about it. Usually, it delivers.

Step 8: Sermon week, Friday. Doubt every single thing you've thought through and every single illustration you planned on using. Wonder why you paid all that money for seminary. Wonder why you're in ministry at all. Wonder why Christ even bothered. Begin to believe that every single thing you studied was really just so God could convict you personally and cause you to grow and that you have no platform to teach others about it. Wonder why your church body keeps you on staff. Okay the notes for the Grapevine. Watch the slides and clips and agree they're good to go. Leave the office thinking that it might be the last day you'll ever be leaving the office because after Sunday your church will have little, if any, need of your services.

Step 9: Sermon week, Saturday. Do yardwork because you know you won't feel like it on Monday. Listen to sermons of guys who are really good at their craft and wonder why you didn't load sermons of worse preachers onto the iPod. Some time after lunch, go into a malaise about the notes, the clips, the text...everything. Shrug and say to yourself that there really isn't much you can do about it now, that you'll just have to go with what you've got and that Sunday's coming and it's just going to have to be what it is.

Step 10: Sermon week, Sunday morning. Wake up with a profound sense that this really isn't about you and that really all you have to do is use His strength to teach His living and active word using the gifts and talents He gave to you to be faithful to His will for you and that he'll use His Holy Spirit to draw folks from wherever they are to wherever He wants them to be. Pray with thankfulness for all of these things, and that Christ would glorify Himself...not necessarily in that order.

Step 11: Sermon week, Sunday, 7:40PM. Sit in the car and laugh because the reality is that your Sunday morning should've been how your Monday morning should've started. Wonder why this process is what it is for you and wonder why you don't just trust God and do the next thing and save yourself all this hassle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts on Walking With God, Part 6

This'll be the final installment on all of this...finishing up the fourth question remaining from yesterday's installment dealing with mortification. That is, if we're dead to sin, why do we struggle with it? And, if we struggle with it, what are we supposed to do about it. That's what we'll deal with today.

Here we go...and Dr. Hannah's comments italicized or in quotes. Mine are in plain text.

The main question of the last half-hour of session #3: "How do I pursue that responsibility of putting sin to death?"

"Most people are bothered by symptoms and consequences of sin rather than causes." I've found this to be very true in the past as I dealt with anger. I wasn't necessarily concerned with the sin itself. I was more concerned with the feelings of the person that I'd hurt. I was much more concerned with the state of the relationship. I was much more concerned about whether or not I was "right" and hence, "justified." I could even be concerned about the state of the steering wheel I'd banged on rather than the sin itself. Rarely was I thinking about the cause of anger or why I was even angry. But I know I spent about 5 years concerned about the consequences of my anger rather than the anger itself. I could apologize and restore relationships but never really deal with the main issue and that pattern would continue for years.

"Be a student of yourself. Temptation is not sin. Giving in to temptation is sin. So, the key is to know how & when you're solicited." This comes pretty easily for me. I've always been prone to introspection, so doing a "post-game" analysis on my choices is usually pretty effective.

Continuing the example of anger...I learned that I'm a person who abides by rules and all that. You know. Like if I have 12 items I don't use the 10-item express lane. If there's a traffic jam, I'll never use the shoulder to get to the exit more quickly. If there are sign-ups and deadlines, I'm a stickler. When the movie theatre tells me to turn off my cell phone, I do it. So, my temperature rises when others don't follow "the rules." Seriously, these things can set me off.

And, because I know this, I've learned to apply the following that Dr. Hannah mentioned...

Practical steps:

"Stop. Think about the possible consequences of what you're about to do." I do this. Let's say I was about to pop off to some lady with 20 items in the 10 item line while I"m standing in a longer line next to it with my 14 items. For all I know, she's got a hot temper herself and might decide to punch me in the face. Headline: Local Pastor In Altercation Over Nothing. Or, what good would it do to yell and shake my fist at the driver who cut me off? Or, worse, what if I did that and it was somebody from my church? Stuff like that. Like I said, I'm pretty good about this...but it took a lot of practice.

"Consider the patience of God." Frankly, I don't do this much at all. It isn't, nor has it ever been, much of a motivator for me. It just sits on my hard drive and I'm glad about it, but it doesn't help much in the moment of choice for some reason.

"Remember that sin never pays long term dividends in our lives." This is where personal experience and watching the experiences of others tends to pay off. For example, when I was at university and living in the fraternity house, it was widely known that I, ahem, had never had sex. And, let's just say that my friends made that particular thing very enticing. Usually, about the time I'd begin to re-think my views, I'd take a look at the results of my friends' decisions. There were psycho girls throwing rocks through their windows. There were pregnancy scares. There were STD's. For some reason I was able to, and still seem to, be able to find that "risk-reward" thing easy to assess. Interestingly, I'm at an age where many of my friends and acquaintances seem to be failing to do that. They're mistaking a very temporary pleasure and doing tremendous damage to their wives and families all because of the temptation of what they think is "greener grass" in other yards. This very thing is the reason I got four of my five tattoos. Permanent reminders of this very reality.

"The sin that troubles me, is not the sin that causes the problem. It is often the symptom, not the cause. We should ask ourselves what is behind this sin? What can I learn about myself and what's going on and 'why' I did it? We should attack the main causes...those things hidden deep in our minds that we hid so we could avoid the pain of them. Reflection over time tends to make these known." Continuing with my anger illustration. When my father died unexpectedly when I was 13, well-meaning people told me all about God's plan and how my dad was in heaven and all that. I remember those statements vividly. But you know what? For a kid who has an innate sense of fairness and rule following...well, this wasn't FAIR. My dad (and we had a very good relationship to the degree a kid can have with their dad). And it hurt not having a dad around for stuff that a kid needs a dad around for. And, at that time, I'm not sure I had the acumen to verbalize that it hurt. And I missed him. And that I couldn't stand the pity well-meaning others gave us. I didn't like the strife it caused between my mom and my dad's family. I didn't like the changes in my own home...from having a "normal" home to becoming what was once called a "latchkey" kid. And, well, because anger felt better than pain, well, that's how I got there. It took years to get to that point, though. What took me two minutes to write took about a decade to deal with and get to the root of. And, manalive, I'm glad I see the root causes now.

"Take on one or two sins to work on. Fight against it with the ingredients discussed in vivification. It's not rocket science." Again, if we decide to take on too many we'll get overwhelmed, get discouraged, and go back into old patterns. So, I've got one area that I found that was actually a surprise to me...gluttony. I'm still too close to it to really give you much insight, but it's the one I've decided to work on right now. And, I'm in process of figuring out the depth of it and the causes of it. Interestingly, as per usual, I was much more attentive to the symptoms of it...and certainly the consequences of it. We'll see how it goes and what transpires.

So, that's the end of our little re-calibration, folks. I like to do things like this as things slow down a little at work...and thanks for allowing me to walk through it in our little public Diner forum, patrons. Even though not many of you seemed very excited by it, you've all been very patient with me. I'll get back to business as usual tomorrow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thoughts on Walking With God, Part 5

You should know the drill by now. What we're doing. How we're doing it. If not, scroll down and grab the idea from the first 4 parts. It may take a little time, but you obviously have time to kill or you wouldn't be loitering at The Diner now, would you?

Today, we're talking about those things we should die to. Those things we have within us that we need to kill off...or as theologians call it, "mortification." It's a part of the spiritual life few books talk about. The things we talked about yesterday tend to get a lot of coverage in Christian publishing, and these things we're going to talk about today & tomorrow are often left out of the discussions. They're difficult questions. They're hard to measure. They don't make us feel better. I'm especially glad Dr. Hannah touched on them, too.

And, as usual, Dr. Hannah's comments are in italics, mine in regular font.

"What does it mean that the dominion of sin has been crushed for the believer? The Bible says you and I have died to sin. If we have died to sin, why is there so much in Scripture about dealing with sin?" The bottom line is that once you become a believer, you now have a choice to avoid sin. Before you were saved, you didn't struggle with sin itself. Maybe you had to deal with the consequences of your sins, but not the nature of it. Now that you are saved, you struggle with sin. In short, that's progress in the battle.

Where those of us who were saved as young children especially have issues with this is that there's little palpable difference in how we lived our lives "pre-salvation" and how we lived afterward. In other words, I don't remember a life where I didn't have a renewed mind. I've always struggled with sin. I don't remember a time in my life where living without struggle so I don't experience much difference. However, many I know who were saved in adulthood have told me there is an appreciable & tangible difference. I'll defer to their experience.

I also appreciate Dr. Hannah's recognition that many unbelievers have morals and common grace. A powerful statement, "We [believers] don't have a stake to higher morality, though we should." Ouch.

"We don't sin with great glee. It hurts us. That's a proof we're saved." When you think about it, this is actually a very encouraging statement.

"In what sense have we not died to sin?" In other words, the remnants of that universal grip sin once had on us still stick around in us. There's still gross stuff.

"We think sin is bad, but my sin isn't. We enjoy secret sins while glorifying God in other ways. Isn't it interesting that we can sing 'Oh, How I Love Jesus" and simultaneously think the guy sitting next to us is a creep."

"What is my responsibility to the sin to which I have not died?" Our role is to recognize when the gross stuff pops up and to deal with it. To take responsibility for it.

Too often, I think this is where we stop short. It requires us to think and analyze. It requires us to think about those things that give us temporary pleasure (crucial word there being "temporary") and have them reproved. No one likes this. It's unpleasant. It's ugly. And it's better to find a way to deny that we're doing it. To attack others when they point them out rather than deal with it. To minimize it. To rationalize it. And we're all better at this than we care to admit.

Folks this is serious work. And I'm guilty of being lax in it. We all cling to things that aren't worth clinging to. They are fierce. I often can't understand why I do this...but I do. I mean, ultimately, it only hurts me.

So, that's the nature of how we've died to sin, but still have to deal with the remnants of it...and tomorrow we'll talk about the specifics on dealing with these little remnants.

Have at it, patrons!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thoughts on Walking With God, Part 4

As indicated by the "part 4," the topic of conversation at The Diner the last few days has been what it means to walk with God in a 2008 setting. We've been listening to a winter Bible conference led by Dr. John Hannah held at our church in 2006, which is available at our church's web archive of sermons...and today is the last half of lesson #2.

It's continuing from the discussion on vivification, or those things which we should make ourselves "alive" to in order to walk with God (at this point you might want to either scroll down to catch up on context or listen to the series yourself). He calls them ingredients of the spiritual life that we all should have in our lives...some in heavier "doses" than others, and unique to each individual.

The ingredients Dr. Hannah listed are in italics, with my comments in plain text.

"The place of the Bible: It is not about the amount of time reading the Bible or remembering what you read. It is about frequency. Read it when you can. We do too much so we quit too early." I found it interesting that a guy who works at a seminary known for emphasizing the teaching of the Word actually seemed so relaxed about Bible reading. I found it encouraging that he talked about the reality that some people aren't readers (which would cause them to get discouraged if this idea were listed for all believers to spend significant time in reading) and that life station often mattered (he even said it was hard for young moms with children tugging at them to dive into the text).

But note that he said it was something that we all should do to some degree. Personally, I enjoy reading and have always been good in literature classes when it came to finding themes & subplots & characterization and all that stuff, so this area is one I concentrate heavily in. In fact, most days I read Scripture two ways: Devotionally and academically. My devotional reading comes from The Message (a translation of the Bible into current North American English--and the version I usually use has chapter divisions but no verse divisions, so it reads more like a letter) with coffee and read in my recliner in the stillness of early morning...and follows a schedule to read the Bible in a year. It lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour or so.

Academically, this takes place with the NASV in my office with bookshelves and computer linkage to satisfy any study whim I have on the study whim of whatever exegetical class I desire to teach. Currently, I'm spending a lot of time in Proverbs and Thessalonians. This lasts a really long time, usually 3 hours for every lecture hour. Sermons can last 15 to 20 hours or prep time.

I liked, though, that it's not about remembering what you read. I mean, c'mon. How many sermons do you really remember? Most Christians I know have notebooks full of sermon notes and class notes that gather dust. But Scripture's input in that day at that time with what the Holy Spirit wanted to give you that moment provides a fabulous opportunity for growing over the long haul.

"Meditation: Think about God intentionally. Think about the passage you read that day." Thinking about God intentionally. I've made this a practice...often by turning the radio off in my car for 10 minutes or not listening to anything or watching anything while I exercise or mow the lawn. When I'm in my hammock and it looks like I'm not doing anything, I'm actually doing something.

"If you can, memorize Scripture. Some people can. Some can't." I'm SO thankful for these words. I'm one of those that struggles in this area.

"Prayer. Some are good prayers, some are not. Some of the best prayers in the Bible are three words, "Lord help me!" Pray through Scripture. If you start with too big of a chunk you'll get discouraged. If you start slow and add you'll be encouraged." My mind runs 100 miles per hour it seems and I easily get discouraged because I lose track of where I am. In order to help this I pray and pace or walk and talk out loud. What I noticed was that I enjoyed shorter times of more concentrated prayer than one big block of time. In fact, I've started practicing 5 minutes per hour at work and each hour having something different to pray about. It seems to be worthwhile thus far for me to do it that way.

"Going to church isn't about gathering for a meeting." Often, I think people view going to church this way. Sundays are highly enjoyable for me because I get to spend time with my church family...the wins, the losses, the ties. To me, gathering together is about doing life together, and the only time I really get to check in with everybody is on Sunday. I can see, though, at our church, that people coming to three different services might not see what I see because I'm there all day. But I do think this ingredient is one of the more profitable ones...however, it's often the entire menu for many. That's very dangerous.

"Read good books. Listen to good CD's." I do this rather easily. But I also need to balance it out with books from all over the map...fiction, biography, history, etc. Occupational hazard. I do listen to about 5 sermons per week not from my church, mostly on my iPod while doing yard work or hammock work.

"Get into a Bible study." Again, no sweat for me. I'm actually "on the clock" if I'm in one. Usually, I like to have one to lead and one to just attend...but I've found that others don't like to lead if I'm attending. But I'm in plenty of these.

"Attend the Lord's Supper regularly.". Dr. Hannah said that this tends to be minimized in our culture, and I agree. Growing up Episcopalian, I had to make quite an adjustment to plastic cups & cracker bits passed in brass trays once per month, but I've learned to appreciate that as well.

"Engage with Christian friends in fellowship. We're to have non-Christian friends, but we should find our moral compass with like-minded believers. You don't need many, but isolationism is dangerous. A friend is someone who doesn't believe the worst things you say, or the best things you say. Your wife doesn't count." This is an area I really struggle with, but I've recently been recruiting for a group of guys to meet for breakfast twice a if you are a ragamuffin and want to start attending one that's just getting up and running, I'm in the market for riff-raff looking to change this part of their lives.

"Find a ministry. You'll never grow sitting in church with a Bible in your lap. Think about engaging in someone else's need." Again, for me, an occupational hazard. Unfortunately, in Bible churches, discipleship is often viewed as sitting in church or class with a Bible in your lap. Most growth I've seen in Christians comes when they begin to minister to others.

"Find time to rest." Guilty as charged, your honor. I stink at this. Even on vacation...I'm a raging workaholic even if it looks a little different to others. I just love my "work," even if it looks like I'm sitting in a conversation at a coffee shop. Some of those conversations over coffee have been about the most difficult parts of life, and it takes an emotional toll. So does standing in front of a class teaching them the greatest truths about life...but the emotional toll is greater knowing you're responsible to a Holy God who has entrusted you with those very words to encourage & train those whom He loves. I'm floored by that reality, and it exacts a mental and emotional toll few realize.

Well, that's the end of the discussion on vivification, and we'll dive into mortification (or, those things we should die to) the next & last two entries.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thoughts on Walking With God, Part 3

Sorry, folks. Slept in a bit today and then had a few parenting (re: taxi service) responsibilites so I'm a little late opening The Diner today. For those of you late to the game, as you can tell by the "part 3" in the title, we've been discussing the sessions from the winter Bible conference regarding the walk with God, with Dr. John Hannah (he's a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary). We've been doing this for the last couple of days, so maybe you'll want to read some of the other entries to get caught up. Also, you might want to go to the CBC website and listen to the archived webcasts...which is what I know several folks are doing.

On with the stuff that got me from the first 30 minutes of session #2:

"How do you walk with God without a bunch of rules that none of us really meet but we lie to each other about them?" The initial question is one the speaker's been working through answering, but I found it interesting that he noted that believers "lie to each other" about them. What's scary is that he's right. I think this is why transparency is so dangerous in our circles, because if we admit we struggle with our walk with God--we open ourselves up to possible judgment or condescension. The beauty is that, like Mike Yaconelli said, "Once we stop pretending, we expose the pretentiousness of others."

"When God looks at your thought life, when God looks at your actions, when God looks at your family, does He see Himself?...What does He desire to see? The nine (single) fruit of the Spirit." I've always thought that mentioning that "fruit" is singular in the Greek was undertaught. They're all bundled together rather than being able to check off in a linear way. Like being able to say you were living out 7 of the 9 or whatever. Nope. It's either fruit or it isn't. It's not "kind of" fruit.

And, frankly, it's disconcerting that Dr. Hannah mentioned those particular areas about when illustrating the point he wanted to illustrate. And, even more frankly, I'm not sure I like the answers I'd be able to honestly give. It's at that point I wish I could count "kinda fruit." But it's certainly a worthwhile discussion about how we can go about arranging our thought life, our actions, our relationships in such a way that we glorify Him.

"A legalist is not a person who has rules. That is a wise person. A legalist is a person who believes that those wise rules curry favor with God."...I can never make him love me more. Those that come from legalist traditions of the faith never understand the grace positions on the walk of faith, usually throwing around straw-man arguments that claim we fail to teach on holiness or that we teach "cheap grace" (I even hear a pastor once say that Scripture never says we can "slide into heaven on greasy grace." Well, he's right, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to refer to the finished work of Christ on the cross as "greasy grace." Usually, this comes from people who get irritated that others in the faith aren't denying themselves of enough fun).

And this leads me to a discussion on the place of habits in the life of the believer. Like many of you, I've tried all sorts of things, from waking up early to extensive journaling to prayer walks and all that stuff...with varying degrees of "success" in all of them an plenty of "failure" in all of them. Ultimately, what I've come to is that habits or disciplines or whatever else you want to call them all result in freedom. That's right. Structure and discipline actually develop creativity and enhance freedom.

For example, if I discipline myself to go to the gym, and make wise choices with food, at first, it's irritating and annoying. Over time, however, I begin to feel better throughout the day. The energy level picks up, too, and after about a week you're not nodding off when you're reading after lunch. Then after a month, you now have better brain activity for an hour more per day, or four per month, or almost 50 per year to use in more creative fashion than just answering e-mails and returning phone calls in the early afternoon.

It works much the same way in a spiritual sense. Those habits you develop will actually not become a drudgery but I've found they allow you to experience the "fruit" in a more natural way...which feeds into a more abundant life. I'll expand on these thoughts tomorrow on precisely how that works in my experience.

"If you want to know how you are doing spiritually, here is a simple litmus test: When you are not thinking about what you are thinking about, ask yourself what you are thinking about. What are your involuntary thoughts? When you're not guarded--half our our piety is because we're afraid that somebody might see what we're thinking--when we're not guarding out thought life, what comes into our minds?


Ever analyzed what you're thinking when you're not thinking about anything? I'm not sure there is a better litmus test, though. And that statement about how our piety is driven by the judgment of others?

You could chew on that all day.

And, getting us ready for a practical discussion on "vivification" tomorrow, Dr. Hannah asked:

"What kinds of things can you and I do to promote a healthy life of reflecting the character of God...

Well, have at it, patrons! It's a shame this topic fell on Saturday, when business is off about 40%. Maybe the Monday morning crowd (which is actually the highest traffic day) will help us out, too, as they play catch-up.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Group Discussion on Walking With God, Part 2

For those of you just joining us, we're taking a few days at The Diner to re-calibrate. You know, check up on our spiritual lives. It's spring. It sounded like a good idea at the time. So, in order to do that, we're listening to 30-minute snippets from Dr. John Hannah's sessions at my church's winter conference in 2006. Here's the 2nd installment.

Some random thoughts before the main outline that stood out to me:

"God is more interested in character building than success. Success is the hobgoblin of small minds." Notably, this runs contrary to much publishing you'll find in Christian retail establishments. Former NBA arenas can be filled up on notions contrary to this statement.

"Part of the spiritual life is coming to grips with divine glory and human failure." It simply seems so discouraging to me that before you really get started your expectations should be measured. I mean, I think the reason most people walk away from attempts at walking with God is the level of failure. It helps me to think that Hall of Fame baseball hitters have a .300 batting average. They fail 70% of the time, yet are considered great. So, adjusting expectations, but not excusing the failure is, in my way of thinking, an important part of the journey.

"[The proper perspective on life] understanding that meaning in life is related to Calvary." Meditate on that for a while, wouldja? The implications if it's true are staggering, and the implications if it's true for those that don't gain meaning in life related to Calvary are staggering.

The "meat & potatoes" of the 2nd half of the session came from Dr. Hannah's way of getting you to think differently about what used to be called "spiritual disciplines." In other words, he says that there are two areas we should think through:

First, vivification. That is, what are those things--ingredients--that we want to put into our lives that promote a God-honoring life? We'll talk more about them in the upcoming sessions, but these are habits we want to put into our lives so that we can know God better, know ourselves better, and know our situation better. I won't list them, because we'll get more specific tomorrow and Sunday...but ultimately these can be difficult because we live in a culture that doesn't revere thinking or reading or, generally, analysis of our environment against any standard at all other than my own "filter." Thinking is hard work, and most people don't want to do it.

Second, mortification. That is, what are those things that we should "die to," that shouldn't be in our lives? Again, the listing of these types things seem to be easier than actually being proactive and doing them. But there are things we don't need in our lives and entangle us spiritually. Yes, we'll talk about some of those on Monday & Tuesday and what to do about them.

Two last thoughts for today and we fire up the coffee and let you have at it:

First, and obviously, the spiritual life is about developing habits. These habits are going to be affected by our personalities and giftedness. We're really good as Americans at making lists and producing steps, and what Dr. Hannah is getting at is that those that don't naturally have a love for, say, reading, and they're told they have to "read" to live the spiritual life are going to have trouble. I felt guilty for years because my prayer life was highly affected by my brain's ability to focus on 100 things at once. I know others who are in a van-driving shuttling-children station in life and place horrible expectations on themselves to be perfect in this area. It's much more organic and individualistic than we've been led to believe. And, because we're better at "doing" than "being," we create a standard which can be measured so we'll "know" where we stand regarding the spiritual life--which is more about "being" than "doing."

Second, that length of time in devotional exercises is irrelevant. Dr. Hannah's point is well-spent. It isn't important that you, say, pray 30 minutes a day or whatever. It's the "every day" that's more important. Also, in knowing yourself, it's about realizing that we all have areas of success and failure, and the end result is that we shouldn't measure "how well we're doing" but by how much we love God and love others.

That should get you going for today. 1st half of session 2 for tomorrow, folks!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Group Discussion on Walking With God, Part 1

Yesterday, I mentioned that we'd be using our time here in The Diner for the next few days to talk about what it means to walk with God in a 21st-century setting. Spring is a good time for me to slow down and re-calibrate, so I thought I'd think "out loud" and allow all the patrons to add their two-cents. Kind of a digital think-tank.

Anyway, my suggestion to get us going on our discussion was that we listen to portions of a 2006 Winter Bible Conference at my church so we're using the same framework. What I didn't expect was how intimidated people got at the idea of going to a website and downloading a sermon. I hope they got past that, because it's really good stuff (and there's lots of great sermons for free on the crazy internet machine). I even linked to it yesterday and it should be as simple as clicking on the little speaker icon and your computer should start playing it. For those that didn't listen, the reality is that the discussion should be broad enough to join in at any point.

So, I suggested that we should listen to roughly half of the first entry, and Dr. Hannah set forth several ideas I think we can run with. Among them:

That our public and private lives should not be a "Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde" affair. In other words, we shouldn't be one person when others look at us and another when we're out of sight.

Frankly, I've always thought this and related to his statement, "People may not like what they see, but what they see is what is. It isn't a facade." It's interesting how our desire to be liked or accepted causes changes in our behavior. It happens to all of us to varying degrees...despite the reality that not everyone will like us and/or accept us.

Where my thoughts went listening to this was how often people divide their "church life" and their "real life." You know. Like when you're at church you have discussions and interactions in accepted frameworks, but outside of that realm you're totally different. It could be something as obvious as portraying yourself at church as this wise & insightful person, and then when you're at home you berate and provoke your children...or spouse. It could fall into areas like music or television or styles of dress (I once heard teenage girls talk about their swimsuit and their "church party swimsuit"). This dichotomy of the "secular" and the "sacred" seems dangerous to me. It's all life, to be lived inside and outside our church buildings.

He made the statement that he'd like to talk about, "What can you do when you can't get it [the spiritual life] right?" He then followed up with a statement that he thinks that's where most of "us" are right now. I agree. But it's weird that most people don't talk about it. The spiritual life often feels like trying to pick up sand...but somehow there's a culture in church circles that everybody else seems to be "getting it" and there's a fear in trying to talk about how it feels to be trying to pick up sand.

I was terribly encouraged to hear this esteemed professor say, about books & methods for spiritual growth, that, "They all work. And they all fail." That's been my experience, anyway. But he's right when he said that they all have the same ingredients. That we'll all walk differently, though. But that they all boil down to a very simple denominator: You cling to what the Bible says, and then trust Him for the strength to do it. In short, the entire spiritual life is simply to "trust & obey."

He also said people experience guilt & imperfection because they listen to people talk about their spiritual lives. The problem is that what people talk about are areas where they don't really have a problem. Amen.

According to Dr. Hannah, the spiritual life (which he called "an unending wonderful struggle") comes down to three things:

First, you must know your God. Second, you must know yourself. Third, you must know your situation. When it comes to knowing God, I think Dr. Hannah's right when he insinuates that many (particularly in Bible church settings, if you ask me) people correlate knowing the Bible intellectually with spiritual growth. His quote, "You can know the Bible, and miss it" was a wonderful harbinger for those of us in leadership. That danger is always there. But I believe it's true that many in my circles confuse the enormity of knowledge with spirituality.

He then said that, to do those three things, you must develop habits that allow you to do it. He noted that you don't see a tree grow, but 10 years later you can see the tree's growth. Hence, the spiritual life is a process, through which we develop habits that, at first, can seem like drudgery. However, over time, these routines develop into habits that eventually become joyful.

This I agree with. Too often, people get discouraged because they try to do too much too soon...and when it feels like they're picking up sand they get frustrated and eventually give up very quietly. But, ultimately, we have to develop some sort of habits that will allow us to know God better. We'll have to develop some habits that allow us to know ourselves better. And we'll have to develop some sort of ability to discern our situation and how we're tempted. In other words, if we plan on growing in our faith, we can't fall back on the patterns we're in or nothing will change.

It's that last one that I don't do very well with in my current phase of life. I have a job that allows me to know my God while I'm more or less on the clock. My job description naturally includes devotional study and stuff like that. Same for knowing myself. I've always been introspective and a journaler and wonder why I've gotten so far afield from my fellow those come pretty easily.

Where I get bogged down is in knowing my situation. Being proactive in areas where I know I'll be tempted and taking preventative measures to avoid those situations. My temptations are not your temptations, so we've all got to be aware in this area. For example, I struggle with diet & exercise. I know this. I can rationalize & minimize & justify avoiding the gym. And I'll often make the poorest menu choice at a restaurant. I can eat too much. And you know what? So much could be avoided by thinking all those things through a little bit better.

So, patrons...that should be plenty to get you going (and that was just the first half-hour of the first hour-long session). Have at it!

*pours coffee, sits down with headphones and iPod and begins listening to the next half-session*

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

General Thoughts About Walking With God

It's that time of year.

Around mid-May the classes I'm teaching come to an end. The warp-speed of teaching three (or four, if one of your colleagues has an emergency come up) times per week and the associated preparation time ends. The job, at least for three weeks or so, becomes nearly 9 to 5 if you want it to be (at least you get two nights per week back, anyway).

What I discovered is that I like to re-calibrate in May. Currently, our "Mays" are longer than they used to be. See, the local school district used to have graduations the last weekend in May, making the early part of the month a senioritis kind of thing that filtered to the rest of the community. That evolved into a mash-up of year-ending finals, club parties, team playoffs and parties, senior graduation trips and such. Then June hit and we summered until August 1st. I don't think our community has adjusted to the state-mandated scheduling that requires school districts to end in June. Hence, this May seems like it's taking FOR-EVER.

What I mean by re-calibrate is to do a life analysis of sorts. Just spend a half-hour per day thinking about who I am and what I'm about. Where am I spiritually? Where am I in my marriage? Where am I as a parent? Where am I professionally? You get it, right? I could go on, but basically just spending some time to think things through and check up on myself.

Then I thought, "Why do this alone?" I mean, we could do it at The Diner!

So, here's what I'm proposing: Go to CBC's sermon archive page. Scroll WAY down to 3 sessions by Dr. John Hannah on 1/13-14/2006. Why these? Because, no matter how quirky Dr. Hannah (one of my former professors) is, the stuff here is some of the best stuff ever taught at our church (it was during a winter conference).

They're an hour or so each. Download 'em to the iPod. Stream 'em at work. Burn 'em to disc and listen in the car. However you want to do it. But we'll listen to roughly 30 minutes per day and then comment & ask questions.



It'll be fun!

All the cool kids are doing it!

So, for tomorrow, we'll discuss session #1, from 0:00 to 36:40.

Sign up for the course in the comments and let us know you're coming so I'll know how much coffee to make...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Girls In Cartoons, Will Leave You In Ruins...

*beat poetry is the feature of the day here at The Diner*
*manager of The Diner steps to the spotlighted microphone in front of the brick wall*
*reads original poem*

Thoughts unscrewed
Coming unglued
Ideas tattooed
Starting to brood
In a bad mood

Insightful incision
Stinging precision
Laborious fission
Opaque mission
A dumb decision

Ideas obtuse
Iconic abuse
Cliche re-use
Fail to amuse
A Life diffuse

Back porched

Doesn't Mattered

can you see

Don't mess with me

Or Texas

there appear to be caterpillars
in my solar plexus

*walks away from microphone*
*patrons snap in unison*

Monday, May 12, 2008

Another Argument Against Jesus Fish

Kid1 has been raised in a Christian environment.

Even worse, she's been a PK her whole life.

I'm pleased that neither environment has turned her off to the faith. I mean, our Tribe has our moments that cause us to cringe with embarrassment. I mean, my own life has moments that cause those around me to cringe with embarrassment. Despite all this immersion, which has tremendous positives, to be sure, both my children have chosen to embrace a relationship with Christ.

Often, those moment of cringing become discussion points in our home. So do the positives.

Today, Kid1 texted me a "cringe" moment.

See, she commutes downtown to school each day. To the heart of downtown each day. Her job is to text message me upon her arrival & departure. I just like to know, okay?

Anyway, according to her, an over-aggressive driver cut her off in traffic this the degree that Kid1 felt the need to honk her horn as the lady was merging to possibly avoid an accident.

Upon the horn-honking, the driver continued into the desired lane, and proceeded to give my daughter "the finger."

You know what offended Kid1 the most?

No, not the aggressive driving. It's Dallas. It's how it goes, man.
No, not the gesture. It's Dallas. It's how it goes, man.

It was the "Jesus fish" prominently displayed on the back of the merging car.

Moral of the story: Let's be careful out there today, kids. There's a world watching us. We can tolerate driving mistakes and forgive a gesture among family--we all have our moments--but we can't count on it always being a Tribe member to tolerate and forgive. It's about out-living the world, folks.
Thought Provoker

People have asked me why I enjoy the daily morning newspaper. It's apparently a lost art in our increasingly digital age.

I've thought about it, too. I mean, it's about a half and hour of the day I could get back and do something more productive, I suppose. To a certain degree, I like keeping up with world events...and I like reading about them rather than watching the news. In fact, I'll often hit different newspapers in different parts of the country with different political leanings to make some sort of informed opinions. There's something to a routine that keeps me centered.

But the primary benefit to me personally is because that particular ritual engages my brain. Something, somewhere, somehow grabs my attention and causes me to analyze what I believe against what is happening. I guess it's like turning on my worldview filter.

Here's what did it today, from Miami Herald columnist Harold Pitts. He was discussing how, for a country that values freedom so much, we tend to squelch it regarding individual day-in, day-out action. His test-case was a friend of his that was raised in communist-led Estonia...of which you can get the entire op-ed article here. But here's the snippet that got my brain engaged today:

"But the plain truth is, when Anna said she doesn't find this country to be especially free, it was Anna talking. Granted, her complaint is hardly new. People often grouse about the lack of freedom in the land of the free.

Americans, she said, love to trumpet their freedom. But it's hard to square that with political correctness that straitjackets communication for fear of giving unintended offense, hair-trigger litigiousness that requires major corporations to treat customers ("Caution: Coffee is hot") like idiots for fear of being sued, zero-tolerance policies and mandatory sentencing guidelines that remove human judgment from human encounters for fear of rendering unequal justice.

You do not have to agree that Americans compare unfavorably with the dull and dispirited Party men and women of a generation ago – I don't – to believe Anna has a point. A nation of iconoclasts and originals seems hellbent on becoming a nation of hall monitors. A nation born in revolution has lived to see revolution neutered and co-opted. So much so that even that which poses as a threat to the status quo (hip-hop, for example) nowadays has commercial sponsorship and corporate tie-ins.

It's hard to imagine an Elvis Presley happening in such an era. Or a Malcolm X, a Miles Davis, a Marlon Brando, a Bob Dylan, a Walt Disney, a Betty Friedan or any of the other American originals who pole-axed the 20th century. After all, originality is anathema to uniformity and, make no mistake, uniformity is what we're talking about here, the campaign to regulate language, law, culture and every other aspect of human intercourse in the hope of thereby removing from that intercourse every hint of risk or danger of unequal treatment.

And if this impulse toward uniformity sounds noble in theory, what it leads to in practice is kids kicked out of school because Midol violates the zero-tolerance drug policy or a guy getting 25 to life because the pizza he stole violates the three-strike law."

Have at it, patrons.
The Funnies Are Us

Addiction Warning

Blog lurker (and occasional commenter) Renee occasionally sends our church staff that blogs items we might find blogworthy. She sent me this on Friday, and I played some on my lunch break. Oh, man. If I hadn't seen a clock and gotten back to what I was doing I could've lost the entire afternoon.

Consider yourself warned. This game is highly addictive, folks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

The Diner would like to say "thank you" to all the moms out there, for everything you have done, are doing, and will do for your children...with special recognition to mother-in-law Frances and wife Tracy.

*raises coffee cup in salute/tribute, and thinks of the stuff his mom did for him*

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Another Occupational Hazard

While I'm pouring your cup of joe here at The Diner, often, I'm wont to mention nuances of my life that I think are unique to my role as a pastor. Simple odds 'n ends that happen because of my role of serving people you regard as your family.

Today, I need to double-check on one, though, because I don't know if it's unique to my profession or part of the culture we live in and it's happening to lots of folks.

Right now, my kitchen counter contains a boatload of three things: Wedding invitations and mission trip support letters and, starting to roll in, graduation announcements.

The wedding invitations are already up to four (with one transpiring last weekend). Sometimes, these will be accompanied by invitations to other parties, like a shower or rehearsal dinner. Each has a couple of envelopes and R.S.V.P.'s included. Side note: This "couple's shower" idea has got to stop. I don't know where it came from or why it started (my guess is that girls want their significant others to become friends and think they'll all enjoy the parties as much as they do--well, we don't), and the only acceptable way this can happen is if the girls open presents in one room, and create a guy environment in another room. I heard one where the girls did the traditional gift shower in one room and had a game-room with darts & beer and a big screen plasma football game going in the other. This is acceptable and encouraged.

The mission trip letters are at 3, and I lost count of the ones we already acted on.

Graduation announcements are rolling in from all sorts of places from the collegians we know, and it won't be long before the slew of high school commencement announcements start showing up.

Please don't get me wrong, I LOVE 'em!

It's exciting to me to know, really and truly know, so many couples getting married and to be excited for them as their big day approaches. It's fun to go to rehearsal dinners and fun receptions, which our church families have gotten GREAT at hosting. We have loads of fun celebrating with our friends even if (especially if) I'm not officiating and Tracy's not taking pictures.

It's cool to see where everybody's off to on summer mission trips and what missions they're involved in. I'm glad my friends have such opportunities.

And I've even learned to enjoy graduation ceremonies. Having attended over 65 graduations (that is an occupational hazard) I've become an expert in the critique of commencement addresses and bring a Gameboy for the name reading of folks I don't know at high school ones. Frogger is my game of choice.

Enjoying the mail isn't the issue...and, no, I'm not trying to big-time everybody by telling you all how many things I get via snail mail.

What I want to know is whether or not this is an occupational hazard, or simply an element of life as we know it. I can't have ambiguity in this area, folks.

Friday, May 09, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking... surreal it must be to have NHL hockey above the fold of a Southern city's daily newspaper two days in a row. surreal it was to watch the Stars fail to show up for game 1 against the Red Wings last night. surreal it is watching the Rangers climb back to 4 games under .500.
...that Amy Winehouse was arrested yesterday for "suspicion of possession" of narcotics. In theory, couldn't you arrest her for that every day?
...that I'm going to come home early and mow the lawn this afternoon. Like my friend Retrophisch said yesterday, "It doesn't feel like the weekend really starts until you get your yardwork done."
...we're going to get our first 90 degree day tomorrow. Yuck.
...that Target has their hammocks on sale, and my 4 year-old one has been worn out by 4 years of weather. And 4 years of a heavier-than-needs-to-be me.
...that Shih Tzu's aren't really wired for a one-mile walk. Lloyd has been worn out for nearly a day and a half because of the one we took the other night.
...that there are a couple of books I'm off to purchase today, if the local bookstores have 'em. this one and another one on parenting.
...that there are three movies I want to see this weekend.
...that I'd really like to get Donald Miller to come to our church to speak, but I don't think as many folks in our congregation would be as excited as I would be.
...that I just found out I'm preaching in big church on May 25. I already have butterflies about this.
...that I remember all the excitement about the Kindle (that electronic book for book lovers, more or less an iPod for books) and now I don't hear anything about it. I wonder how that's working out for them.
...that the wedding I officiated last weekend was nice, and I like seeing so many former students in one spot.
...that I have senioritis and I'm not even a senior in high school.
...that the traffic in our town at 2499 and 407 is so bad that, at lunchtime, traffic backs up past our church and it takes me longer to get out of the jam than it does for me to get home.
...that I need to get back to my diet & exercise program. In a big way. I can really tell a difference at this age.
...that I found a program that will allow you to copy your DVD's (which you purchased) onto your iPod (technically, it's illegal to copy a DVD in any form or fashion, but I can't fathom how it's illegal to copy something you already purchased for personal use). Now, DVD companies have fashioned a method of security that prevents this on certain disks. Fair warning, DVD makers: It's spy vs. spy. The software company already said they're working on this issue, and it's only a matter of weeks. I find this hysterical.
...that a parent's heart will leap into their throat when the phone rings with the child's ringtone when said child is on the road in the car, and then it will take 5 minutes to calm down after they say, "Just stopped at the 7-11 for gas so I'll be a few minutes later than I said I would be." I wonder if this ever stops. The emotions. Not the phone calls. Those better not.
...that the situation in Myanmar is a place where the good old U.S. of A. can shine with regard to humanitarian aid, and their government has this idea that they need to disperse the supplies--creating an extra step. I fail to understand why any government would be concerned over procedure and perception when people need drinking water and medical care.
...that my house is inundated with wedding invitations & associated parties, and mission trip letters. They're all over the place. Occupational hazard.
...that I still need to sell my golf clubs.
...that my friends Steve-O & Mish are in town and I hope I get to see them. The reason for their travel is the graduation of Steve's sister Becca from university, officially ending college payments for my friends Bob & Sue and kicking off their empty nest "officially."
...that I need to get on with my day.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I'm Goin' Down To South Park Gonna Have Myself A Time


...if I were to have a guest appearance on South Park:

Sometimes Psalms Say It Better Than You Can

From Netbible.Org:

Psalm 42
For the music director; a well-written song by the Korahites.
42:1 As a deer longs for streams of water,
so I long for you, O God!
42:2 I thirst for God,
for the living God.
I say, “When will I be able to go and appear in God’s presence?” 
42:3 I cannot eat, I weep day and night; 
all day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”
42:4 I will remember and weep! 
For I was once walking along with the great throng to the temple of God,
shouting and giving thanks along with the crowd as we celebrated the holy festival. 
42:5 Why are you depressed, O my soul? 
Why are you upset? 
Wait for God!
For I will again give thanks
to my God for his saving intervention. 
42:6 I am depressed, 
so I will pray to you while I am trapped here in the region of the upper Jordan,
from Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
42:7 One deep stream calls out to another at the sound of your waterfalls; 
all your billows and waves overwhelm me. 
42:8 By day the Lord decrees his loyal love, 
and by night he gives me a song, 
a prayer to the living God.
42:9 I will pray to God, my high ridge:
“Why do you ignore me?
Why must I walk around mourning 
because my enemies oppress me?”
42:10 My enemies’ taunts cut into me to the bone, 
as they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 
42:11 Why are you depressed, O my soul? 
Why are you upset? 
Wait for God!
For I will again give thanks
to my God for his saving intervention.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Varying Moods Right Now


Maybe it's the negative ions in the air. I dunno.

But I know that today's not the day to tangle with me. I'm not sure what anybody's gonna get.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Review: The Shack, by William P. Young

As I said in an earlier post, I had no intention of reading The Shack. I'm not much for fiction written by Christians for Christians despite that particular genre taking up more and more space in Christian retail establishments. This is one of the reasons I avoid Christian retail establishments when possible.

Several people have recommended that I read the book. Even the college-aged sales rep said this when handing me the copy she was about to ring up, "Oh. My. Gosh. You will be so happy you bought this. It is SO GREAT. It's the best book I've read in YEARS!"They told me they thought I'd enjoy it. The fans of this book are certainly passionate about the book. They LOVE it. And, they aren't alone. This is a self-published book that has sold over 500,000 copies and climbed to #7 on Amazon.Com's top 100. That's a big deal, man. But none of those were reasons for me to dive into Christian fiction. I mean, fifty million Elvis fans CAN be wrong (they weren't, but they COULD be wrong).

Then someone at my church mentioned that they might start a Bible study based on the book and asked me to read it and what I thought about that. So, I didn't mind reading for that purpose.

First, I'd like to address the book as art. Early on in the book, I actually had to fight through some poor writing. I mean, it was poor enough to actually distract me from the story. An example, from page 18: "Once inside, Mack methodically shed the layers of outerwear as best he could, his half-frozen fingers responding with about as much dexterity as oversized clubs at the ends of his arms. He decided to leave the drizzly bloodstained mess right where he doffed it in the entryway and retreated painfully to the bathroom to examine his wounds. There was no question that the icy driveway had won. The gash on the back of his head was oozing around a few small pebbles still embedded in his scalp. As he had feared, a significant lump had already formed, emerging like a humpbacked whale breaching the wild waves of his thinning hair."

Oh, my. As you can tell, the author could've used the editor a publisher would've provided. Too many adjectives and adverbs. (How else can you shed clothes other than "methodically?" Is there an insignificant lump? How do you retreat "painfully?") Poor grammar & syntax. Distracting. And that's just one example. I could've used many more.

Thankfully, the author gets better in the latter half of the book as it becomes more dialogue-driven. But, oh, man. It was tough in the early going.

Second, there were some plot devices that were cliche. Most notably chapters 17 & 18. I had an acquaintance, an author, once tell me that in this particular genre you almost have to create a semblance of this event in this type of literature due to the nature of it and the presumptions if you don't...but I saw it coming a mile away. I thought the neat & tidy resolutions of chapter 16 pandered more to what we wanted rather than what would be. There were two extra children that were seemingly thrown in.

That's what I didn't like about it as art.

However, on the upside, there's no question that this story grabs you emotionally. Stephen King once said, "It is the tale, not he who tells it." Young has a TALE, my friends. He pounces on the fears of any parent. It's dark and brooding and rips your heart out for Mack. In a lot of ways, this story is so powerful that it actually overrides the poor writing. Hence, I have no trouble at all seeing why so many people are affected by this book in positive ways. It's been a long time since I've read a book where the tale actually pulls the author along. It's a good tale, no question.

Now, on to the theological matters:

I'll stay away from the easy ones. You know, like the author taking a low view of divinity (in other words, God is not transcendent, but rather terribly easy to approach, even calling God "Papa." I'm not sure the Greek gives us that freedom to call God "Daddy," as is somehow a popular notion in Christian circles). Stuff like that. It's fiction, folks. And, in order to create fiction in this particular manner, I can't think of any other way to do so. I'll let those slide.

First, I didn't like the downplaying of God's Word. From page 65: "In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course. God's voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects. It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized while educated Westerners' access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia. Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book."

Wow. And here I thought God's Word was living and active and able to pierce the joints and marrow and all that. The very breath of God. Believe me, if you read that book, it will unbox God in ways that will flip your world upside down. And, don't even get me started on Mack's seminary. Nobody at mine told me God stopped working in macro or micro senses. And that entire Reformation where we all got God's word for ourselves rather than an educated class? Hmmm.

Second, I was stuck by the ambiguity of the author's words in areas like, well, let's look at salvation, shall we? From page 182: "They arrived at the door of the workshop. Again, Jesus stopped. 'Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons. Baptists or Muslims. Democrats, Republicans and many who don't vote or an not part of any Sunday morning religious institutions. I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some are bankers and bookies. Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want them to join in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved."

"Does that mean," asked Mack, "that all roads will lead to you?"

"Not at all," smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. "Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you."

And that's just one example. There's a discussion on 197 about the role of emotions: [Sarayu, or Wisdom, speaking] "The more you live in the truth, the more your emotions will help you see clearly. But even then, you don't want to trust them more than me."

It sounds good, doesn't it? And, depending on what he means, he might be right...but I'm not sure exactly what he means.

Same on page 227, when Papa's helping Mack forgive someone: "Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare."

Hmmm. Really? Again, it's pretty ambiguous.

So, if I were to recommend this book, who could I recommend it to?

Fiction readers/lovers? Nope.
Non-believers? Absolutely not.
New believers? Nope.
Folks who've been in church circles a while? Not so much.
Strong believers looking for something to discuss over coffee on whether God acts this way or not? Maybe. And that's about the only group I could...but the pejorative view of theology that seems to come across would almost prevent me from doing that. Hence, only in a "discussion-starter" kind of way could I even give it a "maybe."

And, once again, I feel far afield from those in my Tribe. I mean, so many people have told me they've had their lives changed by this book...and who am I to argue with that? I just know it didn't change mine.

Even Eugene Peterson, an author I truly admire, said, "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!"

So, maybe I'm missing something here. And I'll give you the link to the publisher's responses to early criticisms for a balance. But, I didn't even step into these areas (or at least for the same reasons others did)...

...but the bottom line is that I'm not sure what all the excitement is about. Of course, when you're fiction reading list includes heavy doses of McCarthy, Hemmingway, Childress & Perrotta, well, maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe all the gushing got my hopes up.

So, maybe you could all help me out here, patrons. Because I do feel a bit removed from the hullaballoo.

Monday, May 05, 2008

"I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, cause I'm Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. 'What about getting up after five hours sleep?' Oh that's Morning Guy's problem. That's not my problem, I'm Night Guy. I stay up as late as I want. So you get up in the morning, you're exhausted, groggy. Oooh, I hate that Night Guy! See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There's nothing Morning Guy can do."--Jerry Seinfeld

I had big plans, see.

I was going to blog this morning about The Shack, a novel by William P. Young. I finished it and was looking forward to the discussion it would bring.

And Night Guy has taken over my life lately.

First, on Saturday, we stayed out late on our downtown visit with friends. Night Guy said, "We're having a great time! Extend the party a couple of hours! There's this really good restaurant that seats until midnight!" Morning Guy didn't appreciate the great time when he had to get up early for work. In fact, Afternoon Guy was a little bothered by his choices, too.

Then, after Morning Guy and Afternoon Guy were both just getting over their fatigue (partly staved off by the good time I had at a wedding in the afternoon catching up with friends), we started watching the hockey game. It was a big game...with the Dallas Stars trying to eliminate the pesky San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 8PM start time. Good for all involved, right?

Oh so wrong.

10:15PM. The first three periods resulted in a 1-1 tie. In the NHL playoffs, they play overtimes until somebody scores a goal. In this case, a Dallas goal ends the series. A Sharks goal sends it to game 7 in San Jose...a very undesirable prospect if you're Dallas.

11:10PM. No goal. Overtime #1 ends.
12:15AM. No goal. Overtime #2 ends.
12:55AM. No goal. Overtime #3 ends.

1:31AM. Oh, man. I've got to get up at 6 and I have a whole bunch of little honey-do's to get done and want to try and get the yard work done before it rains and then I'll be taking Kid2 to ballet which will take up pretty much all evening, not getting me back until 10PM. Morning Guy went to bed happy, but somewhat annoyed by Night Guy's last two choices.

So, Morning Guy decides to hold off on the review of The Shack until tomorrow...and hopes Night Guy doesn't have a suggestion for Monday evening when I get back from my driving responsibilities.