Sunday, November 30, 2008


I've never had to blog after Auburn lost the Iron Bowl. It's been six years since that happened and I wasn't blogging then. I'm just glad I don't live in Alabama anymore to hear about it incessantly for...well...another year. There's lots of reasons that I'm glad don't live in Alabama anymore, but that's the biggest one today.

However, one sure-fire way to put a football loss behind you is to watch megatalented Kid2 dance the Nutcracker at the Will Rogers Auditorium. I'm constantly amazed at how good she is at that...even though she wound up hurting her ankle last night (but danced her way through it--ballerinas are tough, man).

And, I'm at home on a Sunday morning. Staycation.

And I don't know what to do with myself.

I'm very disoriented this morning...

...I think I'll check on those Christmas tree lights.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


That's what the teenagers are calling a blog meme that is based on this reality: Once you’ve been tagged, you have to write a note with 16 random things, shortcomings, facts, habits or goals about you.

1. Few things frustrate me more than when something doesn't work the way it's supposed to work when it's supposed to work. For example, yesterday, 70% of the pre-lit tree works. Fuses checked. Store no longer makes the replacement bulbs. Whenever that happens, in whatever form it takes, can change my entire mood and set it there for a lengthy period of time.
2. The thing I've been struggling with lately is gluttony...and not just because of Thanksgiving, either. Diet and exercise (actually, the lack thereof) are the chinks in my armor for some time.
3. I don't get into many television shows, but the ones I do, I REALLY get into. Every episode, in order. That's the only way I can do it.
4. I double-check all the doors to see if they're closed and locked before I go to bed, even if I watched someone else do it a half an hour earlier.
5. I made straight-A's my junior and senior year of college and only pulled my grade point average up to a 2.94. That GPA will go down a lot faster than it goes up. Seminary was a much happier GPA experience, which I think was due to the reality that I was paying for it.
6. As much as I try to learn about Kid2's ballet (steps, variations, insider vocabulary, etc.), there's no escaping the reality that it's like trigonometry to me. It simply doesn't compute in my brain. I do try, though.
7. I generally do well with New Year's resolutions. This year, however, has been an unmitigated disaster.
8. I've generally enjoyed every stage of parenting: Late night feedings (I got to watch SportsCenter), toddling, Legos/Sesame Street, elementary school, even middle school was enjoyable. Now, high school seems pretty good, too. Of course, my girls have made it somewhat easy on me thus far.
9. I've learned that being a father and husband DO NOT give you character. Both actually REVEAL what character you already have...or what you need to work on.
10. Night, rain & cold are way better to me than day, sun & heat.
11. I can juggle really well. Seriously. I can. I'm pretty good with a hackey-sack, too.
12. I've learned that most Christian literature is more weeds than grass, and I do want to do my best to fix that...I just have no idea when I'll get around to that.
13. I like my in-laws. All of 'em. Murray, Frances, Jodie & Stephen, Shane. Nieces & nephews.
14. Sometimes I think I'm callous about death. I don't know if that's because both my parents and grandparents all passed away by the time I was 40 or if it's theological in nature based on my beliefs. I'm kind of a "circle of life" kind of person in that regard. I understand grieving & loss, though, in spades. So, I get the IMPACT of death on those left behind.
15. I can't imagine my views will ever change on mobile phone rudeness, the importance of mass public transportation that works, lazy or overinvolved parents, and the damages of legalism in the spiritual life.
16. I can't envision a time in my life that our family will not have a dog.

Well, there you have it. I don't know if there's much there you didn't already know regarding me since I've likely blogged about some of these things over the years. But, these were off-the-cuff today.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Best Possible New Tradition


My daughters spent the day in the kitchen.

They did everything from the turkey to the salad to pasta to sweet potatoes to the homemade apple pie.

Me & Tracy worked on dishes.


Life is SO good with teenagers.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

After Five Years of Thanksgiving Entries...

...they all sound repetitive and it's easy to put a Bible verse about being thankful and all that.

But, suffice to say that I'm incredibly thankful for all the wonderful blessings in my life.

And I'm hoping that you and yours and thankful for them as well.

Here's hoping you have a great Thanksgiving Day of food, football and family.
Friday Football Picks on Thursday, Rivalry Edition

On the heels of another 5-5 week, which brings the season record to 58-51-1 against the point spread. As usual, the lines get tighter at the end of the least that's what I tell myself about about being happy with 4 weeks of .500 performance. Anyway, these are the big rivalry games for the season, making this one a football watcher's dream starting on Thanksgiving. In a previous blog I mentioned the perfect BCS storm of Notre Dame, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Florida State and Texas A&M winning, but, as you'll see, my guess is that the SEC champ and the Big 12 champ will play for it all this year...but the system still sucks.

Anyway, on to the picks:


Texas A&M (+35) at Texas: 5 touchdowns? The Aggies? In a rivalry game? Wow. But, let's be honest: The Big 12 south coaches all know that they have to make statements this week because of the tie-breaker rule which allows the BCS ranking to choose the division champion. Mack Brown knows it and will do everything within his power to keep the #2 ranking and since his opponent is weak with computers need to let the humans know the Longhorns are serious. It won't be pretty in Austin. Diner Prediction: Texas 42, Texas A&M 14.


L.S.U. vs. Arkansas (+4.5) at Little Rock: L.S.U. is suddenly reeling and can't find a quarterback. On the other hand, while they win many, the Razorbacks are getting better every week. They find a way to score points even if their defense can't get the job done. Right now, I'm feeling like L.S.U.'s entire season has unraveled with the Bama loss, the Troy hangover and the embarrassment last week on Senior Day in Baton Rouge. With the quarterback troubles, I think they'll do a lot of running to overpower the Hogs, but I'm not sure it'll be enough. Especially knowing that they give L.S.U. fits every year. Diner Prediction: Arkansas 28, L.S.U. 26.

Mississippi State (+14) at Ole Miss: Most people don't know that the Egg Bowl is very nasty. Jevon Snead has started to figure out what it means to be a good quarterback and had some incredible throws last weekend. Against an L.S.U. team on the road he was fantastic. Here, he's at home against a Mississippi State team that I can't figure out how they scored 31 against anybody, much less Arkansas. Sylvester Croom's seat starts to get really hot Friday Night. Diner Prediction: Ole Miss 28, Mississippi State 17.


Auburn (+14) at Alabama: Auburn fans are raising their eyebrow that Tuberville's team hasn't won a big game this season and that they played well enough to win against Georgia. They mention rivalry games and you can throw out the record book. Well, the deal in this one is that the underdog only wins once every decade. And the truth of the matter is that Auburn can't score. They've only scored in the 20's twice against SEC teams...and Alabama is at home and risen to every challenge this year. Auburn will be playing for bowl eligibility, but Bama is going to use this game to try to erase 6 years of frustration of losing this game. Even if the first half is close, the Tide pulls away. Diner Prediction: Alabama 24, Auburn 13.

South Carolina (+1) at Clemson: For some reason, nobody's paying attention to Spurrier having the Gamecocks at 7-4. They've handled everybody but ranked teams. Granted, Clemson's been playing well lately, but the bottom line is that they aren't ranked. Their season has been in turmoil and the only thing they have going for them is that they're at home. In a game like this give me the team with the best coach. Diner Prediction: South Carolina 22, Clemson 17.

Florida at Florida State (+16): Is there a worse time to be catching the Gators? They've been demolishing everybody in their path. The funny thing is that I think they'll be looking ahead to the SEC championship game which is the only reason this one will be this close. Diner Prediction: Florida 44, Florida State 24.

Georgia Tech (+8) at Georgia: Two teams that are trying to prove they belong. And Matthew Stafford provided a little distraction in Athens by mentioning that he was going to evaluate his draft status after this game. Georgia didn't look good against Auburn, but their defense gave the weak Georgia o-line fits. The bottom line is the Tech doesn't have as good a defense as Auburn and he'll have a much better day against the ACC team. Diner Prediction: Georgia 31, Georgia Tech 17.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (+7): I never appreciated this rivalry when you look at the historical record. I mean, OU has won nearly 80 times while losing only 16. But 2 of those wins ruined OU championship runs a few years ago, and while Stoops is 3-1 in Stillwater, the wins have been by less than a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the Sooners are peaking at the right time and showed it by dismantaling Tech. OSU couldn't do anything against Tech. And the nation will be better off having OU and the Gators playing for it all. The Sooners will do their part this weekend to overthrow whatever it is the Mack Brown tries to do to A&M. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Oklahoma State 21.

Oregon (+3) at Oregon State: All you need to know about this one is that freshman Jacquizz Rogers is out with a shoulder injury. The Beavers are only in contention or the Rose Bowl because of his 11 TD's and 1,200 rushing yards. As he goes, they go. The only eyebrow raiser is that Oregon hasn't won in Corvallis in the last 5 tries and they have lost two straight. But, without Rogers, the game's different. The Quack Attack has two rushers with 800 yards each and this is why they're favored on the road. Diner Prediction: Oregon 31, Oregon State 24.

Notre Dame (+30) at Southern California: This one is simple. The Civil War will be at halftime before this one kicks off and the Trojans will be well aware that the Ducks can send them to the Rose Bowl. While they're playing out of conference, this is a nationally televised game where they have a chance to climb back into the national championship picture if a few bounces go their way in championship games the next weekend. And, for USC, for some reason, those bounces take place (2003, 2004). They'll make their own statement. Diner Prediction: U.S.C. 52, Notre Dame 17.

So, as you can see, I think the BCS will stay safe from chaos this weekend...but the big news will be that OU will leapfrog Texas and play in the Big 12 championship game. Which will cause it's very own slice of chaos Sunday night when the standings are announced.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Story, Installment 3

*At our elder meetings the last year, they've been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They've done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It's been highly enjoyable, especially since I've known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them...but, yet, in this forum, we're discovering so much that's encouraging in our own walk. While I've given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I'd give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot.

My high school years were a positive blur. When I think back on them, there were a lot of laughs and good times. Yes. I realize some are not so lucky...but I didn't have the pressure of the "A-listers" or the alienation of those that didn't care to be on any type of list. I was right there in the middle with a good group of friends. I wasn't the most popular kid in the class. I wasn't the least. I was just in the class having a good time.

Which is what would influence my life greatly.

See, after I'd made my deal with God to stay on His side of the universe and I'd stay on mine and just letting seething anger flare up from time-to-time only to choke it down with a steady diet of heavy-metal/punk rock (depending on the year I happen to be talking about) and hitting baseballs, well, God was in quiet pursuit.

My freshman year I met a guy named Duffy. He worked for this group that met on Monday nights called Campus Life. I'd later learn that there's tons of these types of organizations out there where they basically send a missionary to public high school campuses. Relational evangelism is the professional term for it. Yes. There are jobs for that.

Anyway, Duffy was always nice to me. Sure, he'd have the "A-listers" mob him when he came to lunch or showed up at a sporting event, but every now and again he'd say "hi." He always remembered my name even though I'd only gone to Campus Life once or twice...and even then sat in the back and cut up. My reason for attending: Girls invited me. There would be a skit or funny game (I was even in one once). They'd talk about some topic that seemed important to high schoolers and there'd be discussion and then the guy would talk about how the Bible applied to that topic. It all went down in about an hour, but I was certainly more interested in skirt-chasing than Jesus. I had a deal, remember? But there were worse ways to spend an evening and it kept my mom off my back about church.

So, for a couple of years Duffy was just around saying "hi" and all that.

But then he showed up at my hospital room when I broke my leg. Lots was going on in the spring of 1983. We'd just had prom and I'd had a good time, but there was a new girl I really liked and the prom date thing was going south. The ACT was coming up. College choices were starting to become a serious topic of conversation. Baseball season was in session, which required a great deal of my time. Term papers were starting. Student elections were in the mix because your friends thought you should at least run against the guy who'd run unopposed for class president for the last three years. Jobs were needing more hours. It was normal high school age-appropriate pressure at its finest.

And, I break my leg doing something stupid: Chasing a foul ball and running into some bleachers. The story of my silliness has been detailed at The Diner many times so there's no need to re-hash it. Back then, they had this thing called "traction" where you stayed in bed pretty much immobile with your full-leg-cast hanging from monkey bars. You stayed there for a long time until the nurse came in and made you sit in a chair.

And in walks Duffy.

We chat about my life to that point. My future. My prom date who I'd spilt a little too much information to while under the influence of pre-surgery drugs and what to do about that whole thing. The ACT. Baseball sesason. Would I lose my job? Student elections. My job. He even asked if he could get my homework assignments for me. I told him that wouldn't be necessary.

And he kept coming around even after that.

And it hit me: All these "A-listers" he usually runs with and he's got time to hang around with me? For hours at a time? To be sure, he talked to me about Christ. About transformation. About...

...dare I say it?...


And about how I could continue to listen to music and hit baseballs for therapy for it if I wanted but he asked a question I never forgot during a post-hospital chat at a McDonald's: Don't you want to get rid of your anger instead of just managing it? I mean, why have anger-management sessions? They don't have adultery management classes, or lying management classes or gossip managing sessions, right? It took about a year of chewing on that before I came to a point where I'd want to get rid of that anger. There's a certain comfort in hanging on to sin. I don't know why. It just is.

Thus began my discipleship.

Duffy humored the former Episcopal kid who'd never gone much beyond the book of common prayer that sat at my bedside when I came to a Bible study he'd arranged for me to be a part of. They were all pretty much Bible church kids who knew a bunch of stuff...and when he'd say things like "You all remember how seriously God takes sin from when we talked about David bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, right?" I'd be the kid asking, "What?" Or when he'd say to turn to Colossians I was kid who had to check the index to find out where that was.

But he talked about grace. He talked about new creatures. He talked about grace. He talked about transformation by renewing your mind. He talked about grace. He talked about the importance of the Word. He talked about grace. He talked about an abundant life. He talked about grace. He talked about the idea of Christ living through you. He talked about grace. He talked about being salt and light. He talked about grace.

He didn't theologize it all up with big words and make it a nice concept to nod politely at, but rather he talked about Christ and grace so much that often I trouble telling the difference.

And this was good news to me. The Bible study guys who went to church couldn't figure out why I was so enthralled by all this. But it was exciting to me, even if them hearing it for their entire lives dulled them to the wonder of it all. I liken it to being an exchange student going to Disney World. To many Americans, it's pretty normal and maybe even expected that you'll get there as a kid and it's fun and nice and enjoyable. But to somebody from the third-world, it's truly magic and wonder and laughter and celebrating with parades and fireworks.

Those years taught me a great deal that would affect my future ministry: Find the ordinary kid and see extraordinary possibilities; preach Christ; make disciples; focus on grace as the motivation; love people where they are; let the Holy Spirit work in the kid and stay the heck out of the way whenever possible regarding that.

And what's funny is that I can't remember five specific lessons that Duffy taught me. I learned that other stuff life-on-life. And it was a nice foundation to get my discipleship built upon, but I'd have to make my faith my very own starting in the Fall of 1984. I'll talk more about that the next time I do this.


In fact, that transformation process from anger to, well, life, is symbolized by the tattoo on my left arm (that actually got completed yesterday--so I think I'm done with tattoos!):

The green bars comprise the logo of one of my favorite punk rock bands, Black Flag. Their logo was black, obviously...and this one is green--for life. And the bloody footprints are from a Stavesacre album art for the song, "The Trouble With Being Born," which talks about the reality that humanity has a problem from birth in that they are sinners--and this problem can only be solved by the shedding of blood...bloody footprints, get it? So, that life transformation from (black) death to (green) life has resulted in me being peaceful, loving and joyful...the little logos within the bars. Finally, the Micah 6:8 reminds me that my walking humbly with God is supposed to have outward manifestations of doing justice and loving mercy.

So, that's what the ink's all about.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that somebody should get on that mobile phone etiquette book writing. The number of times each day that a mom nearly wrecks her van into me while I'm sitting still or the college kid won't shut up in the restaurant (ignoring her friend she's actually with) or folks checking up on texts during movies or a dad ignoring his kids at breakfast. Let's get it together in this area, folks!
...that Ed Young didn't complete the "sexperiment" he started, but I'm wondering why he would go on the national news to talk about his sex life one way or another.
...I heard yesterday that the movie "Twilight" made $70 million last weekend. The demographics showed that 75% of the audience was under age 19. It was also 75% female. Moral of the story: Teen girls will joyfully pay to see romances featuring the hunky undead. Next up: Hunky zombies?
...those folks at Starbucks in Fort Worth where I loiter take the name-learning thing seriously. All the baristas know me and when several said "hi" yesterday by name, I overheard some people at another table say, "I dunno. He must be a local celebrity or something. Maybe he's on the radio." Is it bad if you know all the baristas names, too?
...that I don't understand that when I'm taking some vacation time it means that my razor goes unused, but it seems like an automatic rule.
...that I have a tattoo appointment today and I'm terribly excited about it.
...that it's time to call the chimney sweep, the firewood guy and get the mindset ready for the big blue tupperware containers of Christmas lights & decor.
...that I'm no sucker. I wait the extra day in December to get my car inspected to get a bonus month on the inspection sticker.
...that it's easy to joyfully eschew the evening of a rare Sunday off when one of your college students asks if you're available to baptize her on that particular Sunday because she's home for the holiday. Very cool.
...something else cool: when a former student mentions that youth ministry might just be what they want to do with their life when they're home for the holiday.
...even cooler: one of my high school students and one of my college students will actually baptize the two middle school students they led to Christ a month ago.
...that I don't understand why hackers hop on Facebook or Myspace and advertise web sites. I don't know of anyone who hits anything hacked to them.
...that I'm amused at the reaction of adults when I tell them that high schoolers rarely, if ever, check e-mail anymore because it's too slow. And then I tell them that if I have an announcement to make to them they only way they'll get it is if I Facebook the group or text message the group, they seem bewildered.
...we should pay more attention to the value of sleep.
...another quote from the common-sense-is-cutting-edge file: "But one of the things I know for sure is that those who are looking to us for spiritual sustenance need us first and foremost to be spiritual seekers ourselves. They need us to keep searching for the bread of life that feeds our souls so that we can guide them to places of sustenance for their own souls. Then, rather than offering the cold stone of past devotionals, regurgitated apologetics or someone else's musings about the spiritual life, we will have bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our intimacy with God."--Ruth Haley Barton. Aside from the obvious irony that I've offered someone else's musings and the bordering-on-flowery writing, well, I found it encouraging.
...that I know I'm getting old when a band I really want to see live is playing on a bill with four other bands that I know will be loaded with the hip/with-it college folks and I consider not going because I don't want to be the oldest guy there.
...that I don't think there's any question that Bourne is WAY better than Bond as a spy. Dollar for dollar, Bourne rules.
...that if Auburn were to beat Alabama, Notre Dame beats U.S.C., Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, A&M beats Texas and Florida State beats Florida, well, could there be a better way to exploit the stupidity of the BCS? As long as I'm wishing, I wish I had a pony.
...that I need to get on with my day of nothing to do on staycation but get ink done and oil changed!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Geese & Ganders

Things have been a little heady & heavy here at the Diner the last couple of weeks, so I thought I'd lighten the mood a bit.

Okay, a while back I found a box of old photos of former students, scanned 'em, and posted them here at The Diner.

So, we come home from a night out with friends to discover that Kid2 has figured out how to use the printer/scanner combo while she was at home bored, and to find several photos of our family already Facebooked. Hence, in an act of penance, I will post some of our family photos for your amusement:

The higher-order life-liver sister Jilly with the girls in 1995:

Us in either '94 or '95:

I think this was at the Dallas Arboretum while I was in seminary:

I'm pretty sure this was at Easter of 1996:

Hmmm....I'm guessing we've all morphed a bit since then...

...and,'re next.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Story, Installment 2

*At our elder meetings the last year, they've been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They've done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It's been highly enjoyable, especially since I've known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them...but, yet, in this forum, we're discovering so much that's encouraging in our own walk. While I've given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I'd give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot.

Priest: "Congratulations. Your father is with the Lord now."

Nice lady: "God has a plan, and this is a part of it."

Family Friend: "He's not in pain any more."

The details blur after nearly 30 years. The heart attack. The doctor from next door who worked at the hospital coming over on Wednesday to tell me that he wasn't going to get better. The Friday night with my mom telling me that heroic measures would stop some time tomorrow. The Saturday going suit shopping with my great aunts. Listening to the Auburn game on the radio at my grandmother's house waiting for a phone call from mom. The phone call from mom...she'd be home later and this was all over. My aunts heading back to the hospital and arranging details.

My dad: Coach of little league. Quarterback for both teams or all-time pitcher, with his handicap keeping the after-work beer is his left hand from spilling. Keeping me up on Monday nights until halftime so we could watch the NFL highlights from the day before. Deep-sea fisherman. Hunter of dove, quail & deer...until his son showed little proclivity or desire for those things and he shot hoops. Taught me to mow and then exorcised that chore from his life. Showed me how to change a tire and then let me do it. Climbed into the boat with his brothers (back in the day when it was okay to drink beer and drive a boat) and my cousins and tried to throw us off the inner tube from his driver's seat. Attender of games & plays & the kind of guy who was okay with basepaths in the front yard while the neighbor won yard-of-the-month. Danced with my mom to Sam Cooke and kissed her, really kissed her in front of me (more than once) and didn't seem to care. Right there in our kitchen, to boot.


As in, "not there."

He died when I was 13. I had more of a dad in 13 years than many get in a lifetime.

And, as you'd expect, my life changed. I went from a homemaking mom and dinner around the table every night to what folks would deem a "latchkey" kid. Mom got a job as a teaching assistant and went to school at nights to renew her teaching certificate.

And, as you'd expect in the 70's, well, let's just say that any type of therapy had a different stigma attached to it than it might today. My mom's therapy was to keep us moving. I went to school the day after my dad's funeral. She got me a pass that gave me unlimited pitches at the batting cage a bike-ride from my house. She let me know that I could always talk to her if I needed to. A nice gesture, to be sure...but I'd hate to interrupt the crying that went on behind her closed door to chat about missing my dad or asking questions about exactly how it was that a 36-year-old can just die.

So, while I was still involved in the benefits of a happy childhood, which included days at school with lots of laughs because my friends didn't necessarily take school that seriously. And lots of sports, which were fun. And lots of activities like going to movies and basketball games and dances and having girlfriends and riding around in my car with Hal and toilet-papering houses and being president of my class and anything else that might be construed as a relatively well-adjusted high school experience...

...I understood that those things that people say at funerals are well-intentioned...

...and maybe even theologically accurate...

...but they don't do anything for a 13-year-old who doesn't feel like being congratulated.
...they don't do anything for a 13-year-old who isn't really a big fan of God's plan at that moment.
...and they certainly don't do anything for a 13-year-old in pain whose dad isn't in pain anymore.

So, I just didn't think about how a 36-year-old can just die. I went about the business of living my life.

And if my brain ever went to thoughts about how a 36-year-old can just die, I'd hop on my bike and head to the batting cages. Later, driving the car two blocks to the batting cages. Which had the distinct advantage of lifting the trunk open and rolling the windows down and turning the music up...

...which started out with the gateway drug of AC/DC & Ozzy which later led to the hard stuff of Black Flag, Fear, X and Social Distortion. And that's just for starters.

So, I was drug-free.
I was alcohol-free.
I was sex-free. The curse of dating nice girls, I guess.

But none of that was due to large spiritual connection with the God of the universe. It was part mixture of just being a good kid who hung out with good kids. Mischievous, to be sure, but good. Part due to coaches who were able to keep tabs on us. And part due to the reality that if I'd do those things and got caught (which was highly likely in our small suburb in a time when parents teamed up and let the village raise us) mom would cry more.

I was an angry young man. Yeah. I'll just be angry, too. And fend it off with music or baseballs, or a combination of music and baseballs once that tape-deck was installed.

And that anger was firmly directed at God. But, I never went through some dark night of the soul where I doubted his existence. Nope. His existence never was in question. My reality was that I understood that God's plan involved me without a quarterback/guard/pitcher/hunter/fisher/dad.

So, I cut a deal with the God of the universe: Just stay on your side of that universe and I'll stay on mine.

It seemed fair enough and worked very well until 1983.

Filled up the van yesterday...



Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Story, Installment 1

*At our elder meetings the last year, they've been taking 15 minutes per person to talk about their journey of walking with Christ. They've done it in, more or less, a time-line fashion. It's been highly enjoyable, especially since I've known most of these folks for a decade or more and spent a great deal of time with them...but, yet, in this forum, we're discovering so much that's encouraging in our own walk. While I've given snippets of this in various ways here at The Diner, I thought I'd give it a shot the way the elders have been doing it and get it all in one spot.

I was born in Fairfield, Alabama. Same place as Willie Mays only 35 years later (1966), which may explain my fascination with the number 24 and over-the-shoulder catches.

My mom was a school teacher. A bow-headed cheerleader, youngest of 3 girls. My dad was a general foreman at the steel mill that was the reason that Birmingham even has a star on any map. Like everybody else that was a general foreman who married a school teacher, when the oldest kid turned 5 you moved to a steel-mill suburb for the schools and the mom became a homemaker.

My upbringing was stereotypical middle class: Homemaking moms involved in the PTA and dads who strolled home at the end of shift work at either 7AM, 3PM, or 11PM...double shifts excluded. We went to school, came home, took off our school clothes, put on our play clothes and immersed ourselves in whatever sport was in season or imitations of Fonzie jumping trash cans on our bicycles. Cable television with 3 superstations, all showing National League baseball. Putt-Putt. Little league everything. Get togethers often with both the paternal and maternal extended families. Maternal at Pappy's house and paternal at Nana's...or maybe the river cabin that side of the family shared. Pretty standard stuff.

Except for the religious arena.

We were "Episcopal." In Alabama. Which caused people to say, "That's nice." They really got Baptists. They could get their arms around Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and the like. They recognized Catholics. From what I could gather, to most hearers in God's Little Acre, "Episcopal" meant, "Kinda Catholic But Not Really."

But there was Sunday School. My mom taught it.
There was a formal church service every Sunday except the Sunday we didn't have it to watch the 1980 U.S. Hockey team play Finland for the gold medal in the Fellowship Hall.
There were church camps...I distinctly remember one in a town in Alabama that you could ski in called Mentone.

My mom was diligent. She got us to church every week. We got our Sunday School pins for attendance and memory verses. We said the Lord's Prayer every night. She fixed something for the pot-luck lunch that followed the service, usually deviled eggs. She got me into being an acolyte when I was old enough. She got me enrolled in confirmation classes.

Which was to confirm that I was saved. Well, me and the other 13-year-olds.

Which, I was. To hear my mom tell it, I said a prayer with her when I was 5 right in the den with her. I tend to believe her. She wasn't given to outright lies regarding stuff like that. But, it's safe to say that I can't recall a time that I didn't think with what I later learned is called an "unrenewed" mind.

I think that's why I've always had leanings and fascinations regarding God and religious things. When we went into our Dungeons & Dragons phase (like every kid born in and around the time we were) I was always a cleric. I always prayed. I never had trouble picking up a Bible and finding something to get into. I can't think of a time that there hasn't been some Jiminy Cricket thing going on in my life. It's always seemed to click for me, even when the questions came (that's tomorrow's entry).

In contrast to my mother's outward diligence was my father's unspoken inner commune. My dad found God in the outdoors. Put him in a boat (river or gulf, didn't matter) or a deer stand and you could tell he was, in today's parlance, "centered." My dad also found God in relationships. Put him with his wife & kids or with his friends and, while quiet, laughed a lot. He adored his wife (much to the bewilderment of my sister and I), he adored us (which manifested itself in him teaching me about drop-steps/head fakes and hugging/kissing my sister) and enjoyed his friends. Sure, he'd be mom's henchman when it came to getting us ready for church and he attended as often as it took to keep my mom off his back. But he didn't get into the gold/stained glass/prayer book stuff as much as he did everything outside that realm.

And that's what my spiritual life was in the 8 years after my age-5 start. I could repeat it all back to the priest when it was supposed to be repeated back. I could stand or kneel as required. I bowed when it was time to bow. I could try to figure out what was going on outside the stained glass windows whenever I detected movement beyond them. I knew it was time to go in when the bell rang. I knew it was time to go to lunch when it rang again. I got to be part of communion out of a silver chalice with everybody else every week. Robes. Incense. The whole bit. I had my prayer book signed by the Bishop Furman C. Stough by my bedside and did those nightly with my mom--or my dad if he was trying to keep her off his back.

The red-headed boy next door.
Who hung out with the other boys next door playing sports when he got home from school.
With a homemaking mom who drove the spiritual bandwagon.
With a dad who got on the bandwagon in his own way.
Happy...for the most part, even though we all have our days.
Walking with God the way I'd been taught, formally and informally.

Until the Fall of 1979.
Just A Head's Up...'s good to have Pastor Bill back in the blogopshere.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Football Picks, Week #11

Another 5-5 week last week, bringing the season record to 53-46-1 against the point spread. I really can't believe I overestimated South Carolina and underestimated Auburn, which really would've made the week more respectable. But, we've got a few VERY important games on the docket this weekend before we get to rivalry week NEXT week, so let's get to it, shall we?

Texas Tech (+7) at Oklahoma: This is the one that is most important to the BCS this weekend and all eyes will be on what happens in Norman on Saturday night. Every fiber of my being wants the Red Raiders to win this game...I mean, those of us who love the teams that aren't in the hunt every year pull for the little guys. But that's just the point in this one. The Red Raiders are on the road. The Red Raiders have never been in this position while OU's there every year. But, when it comes down to it, it's not about what Texas Tech isn't, it's about what Oklahoma is...which is a good football team, playing at home, with a chip on their shoulder and the Big 12 south title in their sights (if that weird BCS ranking doesn't choose it). Diner Prediction: Oklahoma 41, Texas Tech 30.

Mississippi (+5) at L.S.U.: What the heck went on in Baton Rouge last weekend? Scoring 30 in the 4th quarter to come from behind to beat the Troy Trojans? It's gotta be a Bama hangover...and while L.S.U. isn't the feared Tiger team of the last couple of years, they're certainly better than Ole Miss, and they're playing at home. And Ole Miss isn't nearly as good on offense as Troy and that goofy spread offense. Diner Prediction: L.S.U. 21, Mississippi 13.

Michigan (+20.5) at Ohio State: What I'm really glad about is that nobody's talking about OSU"s national title implications this time around...because then their season's over and they have to wait 45 days before playing again. Nope, Ohio State's out and Michigan isn't going to a bowl for the first time in 30-some years. And, there's a reason for that. Michigan's a bad football team. Say what you want about rivalries and records being thrown out the window, but Ohio State's gotten better every week and, even though this is Michigan's bowl game, they just don't have the horses this year. Diner Prediction: Ohio State 35, Michigan 14.

Michigan State (+14.5) at Penn State: Michigan State has played better than expected this year, but then again, so has Penn State. The Nittany Lions have the Rose Bowl in their sights while Michigan State hasn't beaten a ranked team in their last 10 tries. Granted, Penn State's slip up against Iowa keep me from thinking this one would be a blow out, but it has the potential to be. A motivated Paterno team against a team that can't figure out how to win the big ones? The choice is easy. Diner Prediction: Penn State 31, Michigan State 13.

Tennessee (+3) at Vanderbilt: I'm struggling trying to make sure I got this right. The Vols are a 3-point underdog...against...wait for it...VANDERBILT. But Vandy's been a good team all year and they're bowl eligible. This year, the Vols are underachievers and they're not bowl eligible. And the vibe around Knoxville is wondering more about who will coach Tennessee next year rather than anything they are or aren't doing this year. Tennessee will fight, but I think Vandy will pull it out in a close one at the end. Diner Prediction: Vanderbilt 21, Tennessee 17.

Washington at Washington State (+7): I only put this one on here because I think it's hysterical that the two teams are a combined 1-20. And Wazzu's only win came against a lower-division team. Two bad football games battling it out in Pullman in the cold. The team with the better athletes will win, but I don't think they'll cover. I can't imagine either team covering. Diner Prediction: Washington 17, Washington State 13.

Stanford (+9) at California: The only thing I can't stand about this game is having to watch that same replay of the band running on the field and Cal scoring the winning TD after all those laterals. But it's a really good rivalry game, and the day before football season I was on the Berkeley campus and they had the "Beat Stanford" shirts on sale at the bookstore. In addition to a great t-shirt special, they also have a better football team. Diner Prediction: California 30, Stanford 17.

Florida State at Maryland (+1): Florida State came up short last week against Boston College...while Maryland has this uncanny ability to knock off teams and climb to the top of the ACC Atlantic division. They're 7-3, and can make a big step toward getting to the championship game. They're at home, they're favored, and FSU has crumbled this year in games that meant something. FSU has the title in their sights, too, and if they were at home, I'd take 'em. It'll be close, though. Diner Prediction: Maryland 22, Florida State 20.

Brigham Young (+6) at Utah: This game's really bitter and one of the most underrated rivalries in college football. There's a lot riding on this one for the Utes, too. Win, and you're going to a BCS bowl. Lose, and the door opens for Boise State while you spend the holidays in Idaho and the Humanitarian Bowl. It'll be war, in frigid weather. But give me Utah just on the hopes that BCS chaos will reign supreme. Diner Prediction: Utah 24, Brigham Young 21.

Oregon State (+2.5) at Arizona: The Beavers are in control of their own destiny in the Pac-10. Seriously. All they have to do is win out after winning 6 straight games. The problem is they're hitting the tough part of that schedule. On the other hand, the Wildcats are 4-1 at home this year and score points like crazy...they've scored 40 or more 6 times this season. It's interesting that OSU's the underdog even with the success they've had this season. This might be the best game that nobody watches. Diner Prediction: Arizona 41, Oregon State 35.

Well, there you have it, patrons. What do you think?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Margaux Update

It's been a while since I've posted a Proud Uncle here's the stunning Margaux in her Auburn cheerleading outfit we sent her. Can't start 'em too young, especially during the off-week before the Iron Bowl!

Of course, here she is after my higher-order life-liver sister Jilly and barnstorming brother-in-law explained that Auburn's 5-6 record and anemic offense don't give us much of a chance...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Scrolling down, I can't believe how much I've written the last few days.

I actually don't think I have any more words for today.

Just talk amongst yourselves.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kinda About Politics and Kinda About Church

Don't discuss politics & religion, right?

Well, I think I can do this in a way that is actually thought provoking and interesting. It all started when I was reading an article about all the reasons President-elect Obama became President-elect Obama. You know, one of those post-game analysis type things regarding the election and campaigns and such. And, among many topics, one that came up was the "youth vote." And one of the guys that weighed in was David Gergen.

Yes, that David Gergen. The one that has been a senior advisor in the White House to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. His day job is at Harvard.

Anyway, he was asked about the youth vote, and here was his response:

"The emergence of this millennial generation as a force in American politics is going to be one of the biggest stories in the country over the next 20 years or so...But the rising generation of millennials is bigger than what has come before. They are even bigger than the Baby-Boom population, and they are much more progressive and diverse...They look past gender and race in ways that Baby Boomers do not. They embrace diversity, whereas older Americans tend to be wary or even scared of it."

Peter Hart of The Wall Street Journal added, regarding the election and how this youth vote added an element of technological advancement to campaigning, said:

"It was total transformation. The rules have been re-written, and we're never going back to the old politics."

Now, it wasn't the politics that got my brain going. I was aware of the rise of the Millennials. It's my job. And I'm pretty aware of how technology has invaded the teenage/young adult world. Again, it's my job.

But I started thinking about how, even among what used to be termed the "evangelical vote" there was a gap between older "evangelicals" and the younger "evangelicals" regarding this particular political race.

And, my thoughts continued about how that gap in political thought extends to church life. I mean...all you have to do to get a rise out of the older folks at our church is to mention the "emerging church" and, even though most have little idea of what that really encompasses, they pretty much get riled up. They don't like the idea that the younger group doesn't love the way they do church services.

And, that street runs both ways. All you have to do to get the younger ones riled up is to talk about how much we can learn from the older generation about the importance of worship, and/or teaching the Word...and you get eye-rolls about boring music and lectures and how un-hip everything is.

Now, don't get me wrong. This has been going on for centuries, man. That gap. Between young and old. This isn't new at all.

But I do think that, for lack of more convenient terms, the political gap between the Baby Boomers and Millennials (and, yes, once again, us GenXers are sandwiched somewhere in the middle...just blank...but that's another blog topic) has some profound implications to the church. Things we can learn from.

For example, the importance of technology. I mean, I've mentioned it here before, but the Baby Boomers use the Internet to get information. You know. They might go to a church web-site to find out where the church is located. Or maybe to find out what time an event starts or maybe even the doctrinal statement. Might even listen to a sermon. But the Millennials use the Internet for community. They want to go to the chat room and discuss the sermon, maybe even in a live chat with the person who gave the sermon. They want to interact with thoughts and ideas they're reading on forum pages. They evaluate what a church values by what their page contains.

Or, for example, the idea of embracing diversity. They like it when maybe a missionary would come and teach them how they worship in their part of the world...even if it involved dance and drum beats. They'd be likely to enjoy the speaker and would want to participate in the experience with the speaker if possible. The older generation might enjoy the drumbeats and such as long as it wasn't a steady diet of that stuff in the church service. And they'd be more likely to politely clap after a demonstration of how they worship.

Again, those are just examples...using stereotypes. I get that there are exceptions to those rules.

And, I get that both sides have drawbacks, too. I mean, you can't have all your "community" on line. There's got to be the addition of face-to-face getting together. I mean, you've got to have some consistency in services or things devolve into chaos. I get it. Neither is perfect.

But, I'm thinking about the future of the church here. In 20 years, things will be wildly different. One generation will replace another. And, today, I wonder about how we can begin to prepare for that shift in power while acknowledging that a gap exists.

So, I'll get us started, and you guys can help out:

First, we've got to get the generations mixing up more in our services and in our classes. We're pretty much broken down into age-specific class offerings and times. Now, sometimes, this is necessary, like, say a marriage class. But even in that, you could mix older, wiser couples with newlyweds, right?

This would mean that we've got to be open to new ideas in our services, too. So, if more video is used to enhance to point of the text and that isn't our cup of tea, then we should acknowledge that and let it go. So, if they decide to go old-school in worship one Sunday and have an older saint lead worship on a piano with her favorite hymns, the younger in the church need to value and learn from that.

Second, we've got to realize that change is a good thing. I mean, not change just to change things...although that can be good sometimes, too. We have the chairs arranged differently in our Sunday School each week for a reason. But, I was asked to bring these ideas to a small group at our church once, and I talked about how we needed to make the younger generation feel welcome and gave some things we could do to make that happen, like acoustic music or darkened rooms or responsive readings or communion from a common cup, and a very nice lady who I care a great deal about remarked, "Brent, I appreciate that you love the kids, but in the main service, well, you can do that stuff after we're dead and gone. We put a lot into this church and we like it the way it is." She was completely serious. Granted, I think that's an extreme, and maybe isolated, position. But I do think that when people say they want the young people "back in our services" or wonder "where are all the young people" they might want to understand that just by wanting those things, you've got to be open to ways of doing things that attract them even if you don't particularly enjoy the things that will attract them. One major thing is to let them be influencers and decision-makers, giving them places to serve and lead (which might mean stepping out of the way on boards and such).

Also, we've got to teach our young people to value the wisdom and experience of the older generation. Sometimes, the younger ones need to get over themselves. Which is the one major drawback I've seen from the so-called "emerging" church is that they don't like the way things are done, so they take their ball and go home. They just decide to form their own church and do all those things that they appreciate in worship. And they have excellent churches. The problem is that they miss out on how wonderful having gray hair can be when it comes to decision-making and all sorts of areas. Of course, that gray hair has to have a great brain underneath it, but the things they can teach us about the spiritual life and practical living should never be discouraged. We've got to find ways to involve them in meaningful ways to help the younger ones mature.

So, that's my two...

...what've you got that will help us prepare for the church of 2028?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Trees In The Forest

In the middle school class that I teach on Sunday mornings, we've been in the Psalms of Ascent. We stopped down in Psalm 126 for a bit. It reads:

"Psalm 126

A song of ascents.

When the Lord restored the well-being of Zion, we thought we were dreaming. At that time we laughed loudly and shouted for joy. At that time the nations said, “The Lord has accomplished great things for these people.” The Lord did indeed accomplish great things for us. We were happy. O Lord, restore our well-being, just as the streams in the arid south are replenished. Those who shed tears as they plant will shout for joy when they reap the harvest. The one who weeps as he walks along, carrying his bag of seed, will certainly come in with a shout of joy, carrying his sheaves of grain."

Laughing loudly. Shouting for joy. Happy. Based on the reality that God had done great things for them.

Sure, there's balance in the Psalm, too. Things didn't appear to be going so well currently. Notice the verb tenses.

But there's also a confidence that blessings will be back after the seeds get planted and grow.

As a teacher of the Word, well, you pray a lot. Those of us that take that task seriously do, anyway. Sure, we study. We plan...even getting meticulous with illustrations and time spent on what the text spends time on and all that jazz. But when you pray a lot and take it seriously the study can wind up going off the prepared notes a bit. It happens.

And I started thinking of what laughing loudly and shouting for joy and being happy and feeling like you're in a dream might look like.

I thought about parades celebrating a sports championship. In Dallas, the most recent was when they paraded the Stanley Cup through town 8 years ago. The heavy-metal band Pantera had their own float because they wrote & performed this chant the fans do in the playoffs. Rumor had it the famed trophy had to be hammered out to original form because the players, well, really enjoyed the celebration and invited the trophy along for the ride.

I thought about that scene in the movie Animal House where Otis Day & the Knights played the Delta Tau Chi toga party with that song "Shout." How much fun they were having. How they really were shouting and laughing, even when they were singing a little bit softer now. They gatored. They let it rip in response to that evil Dean Wormer's feeble attempts to kick them off campus.

I thought about that really fun scene at the end of Shrek where they were all dancing at the wedding to "I'm a Believer."

I thought about how surreal it was in 1980, with so much going against the USA at the time, how a bunch of college kids wearing red, white & blue, beat the Russians in a hockey game and made the entire country dance and wave flags.

I thought about when we had some friends from a Messianic Jewish congregation come and lead a Passover Seder at our church...the evening AFTER their Passover Seder. They brought dancers and musicians and led us in a two-hour version of what took them all night. It wasn't their Seder they lead for us that got me thinking. It's the fact that, while we were helping them set up and everything how they were all carrying on about how exhausted they were from being up all night eating, drinking and dancing and carrying on. And then they were excited to be doing to do it again in condensed form!

I thought about how my friends at Texas Tech text messaged me with photos of storming the field after their exciting win over Texas a few weeks ago.

I thought about the first time I saw my wife on my wedding day and really, truly feeling like I was in a dream. How a girl that great would marry a slug like me was beyond my comprehension. Even more mind-boggling is that she's stuck around for twenty years and gives me indications that my feelings for her are reciprocated.

I could go on. We all have our images of celebration and joy and dreams fulfilled...even if we might feel like we're planting seeds at the moment and waiting on some harvest to come. I don't feel that way at present, but some folks I know happen to.

And I'm supposed to be preparing some sort of update for a meeting at our church next Sunday of the stuff that God has been doing in and around the ministry to which I have been entrusted...and images pop into my head:

I think about the mom who reluctantly went on a weekend retreat with middle schoolers because we needed some moms to go at the last minute...and she wound up being around when God wanted bring a middle schooler into a relationship with Christ.

I think about our little Tuesday night worship band that is led by a college student, and comprised of middle and high schoolers, who put a song on their MySpace page. Well, a lady who puts on Christian concerts in our area stumbled across that page and, well, our little Tuesday night worship band led by a college student and comprisd of middle and high schoolers has a gig on December 14. It only costs $9 to see the show with 4 other bands thrown in.

I think about one of my high school students who never really showed much growth outwardly because he's the kid in the back of the room cutting up most of the time...who told me that he prayed with a middle schooler in his small group who wanted to accept Christ's free gift. Oh, yeah. He had a friend who wanted to also. One of my college students helped that one along.

I think about the four new small group leaders who are having a blast preparing their studies each week for their high school groups. It's really cool how excited they are and how much they've bought in to the ministry we're working in...and how much fun their students are having, too...even when the stuff they're learning requires change and deep-thinking. Even in counting the cost there's joy.

I think about the 24 teens who took our True Love Waits class. Even in my cynicism for the long-range prospects for the students (the statistics bear me out on that one, so I'm tempted say it's realism, but I'll give my students the benefit of the doubt there, and just blame my cynical nature), it's cool to see them agree with God on what's right and wrong. Heck, it's even good to see them be idealistic and spend time with their parents going over Scripture. It's good to see that they understand that God can make the rules and obedience is the best course of action, even if they hit some speed bumps on this particular one.

I think about how obvious it was to see God at work in bringing us our Director of Middle School Ministries. That process had a lot of detours and rabbit trails, but I'm pretty excited about how it turned out...well beyond my myopic view of what was supposed to happen. We've got the right guy at the right time.

I think about how yesterday, a high school student who only recently came to know Christ brought a friend to church. Her words to our teaching pastor, "My friend wants to know Christ. Can you help her?" He was on his way to a meeting and I was standing around doing nothing about five feet from him and introduces us. Half an hour later after bouncing around in some Bible verses. We said a little prayer at the end thanking God for moving her from death to life. I think it's cool how our church has Bibles to give away for people that don't have one (if you can imagine, in the Bible Belt, a kid not even having a Bible available to them?). I think it's cool how our church will look the other way when I gave away a book that will help her along that we usually sell in our church book store. Seemed silly to ask her for $7 at that moment. I even think about how, as an encouragement, Diner patron Bob actually paid for that book even if he doesn't know it yet.

I think about watching the light-bulb go off for some former students who've gone off to college this year. It can be dicey, sometimes, watching them go off and try to figure the next stage of their growth out pretty much on their own. Some win. Some lose. But the ones that "win"...well, it's beautiful, man.

I think about I've got students who are being salt & light in all sorts of areas: Athletic teams, bands, plays, robot teams, extracurricular stuff like newspapers and yearbooks, and how we've got young ladies in our ministry funning full-throttle with an intergenerational deal with the older ladies in our church. It's pretty neat to see when students aren't part of the church of the future but part of our church right now. That's Biblical, btw.

I could go on.


I could.

I should.

But it's already too lengthy for today's cup of joe.

So, today, I hope you'll allow me to put a little dent in my own Stanley Cup and a mental parade through a fictional downtown.
I hope you'll allow me to just put my head down and laugh with my hand over my eyes and shoulders bouncing.
I hope you'll allow me to put my hands up and "Shout" and be a little bit louder now even if various forms of Dean Wormer try to squelch it.
I hope you'll allow me to pick the soundtrack music to the celebration. Well, I just typed "Shout" into the iTunes Genius feature, but you get the drift, right?
I hope you'll allow me to have that surreal moment while just standing there and it hits you, "We beat the Russians."
I hope you'll allow me to glance at my wife and feel like I'm in a dream.
I hope you'll allow me to be thankful for all the adults who help out and make this thing happen with their hands and feet.
I hope you'll allow me to wonder how it was that God led this lady to find our worship band's MySpace page that day while she was at work.
I hope you'll allow me to smile when I see a photo on Facebook with the True Love Waits class in it.
I hope you'll allow me to want to feel exhausted after we ate too much, enjoyed really good wine, and broke glasses while listening to really great music and remembering what God did for us all freakin' night long.
I hope you'll allow me to give a book away on your nickel. Well, as it turns out, Bob's nickel.
I hope you'll allow me to have a little bit of enjoyment when I get that text message with a bunch of smiling faces and a scoreboard with their team victorious in the background, or when they talk about what God's teaching them in 350-character blasts to my mobile phone.
I hope you'll allow me to sit with a bunch of students watching & supporting another student participate as they use their gifts and talents to glorify Him in some way...and be a little thankful they bothered to invite a 42-year-old with a gigantic Peter Pan Complex.

In short, the way I see it, God is at work in me and around me.

And I'll have a mental ticker-tape parade today...even if it's taking a while.

Feel free to join in if you like.

*Puts "Shout" on the iTunes. Hits the "Genius" icon. Let's that soundtrack rip--and you know it'll be good when Sly & The Family Stone, Kool & The Gang and The Ohio Players show up. Genius pretty much has it figured out, man*

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Scattered Thoughts Spurred On By Rob Bell's New Book

Twice last week, I posted selections from Rob Bell's new book. The gist of it is that the American church has some negatives associated with it...

...and the authors decided to point us in the right direction and encourage us to come up with solutions. It's a more provocative read than anything else. In a good way.

So, I've been doing some thinking on the questions I posited earlier: The idea of "engagement." In other words, how does the Church, and the individuals who comprise it, become more effective in our culture? Here are some more thoughts, continued from yesterday:

Spiritual transformation, which ties in the idea that we avoid conformity to the world system, comes via "renewing the mind." In other words, we should change the way we think. We're supposed to think like God thinks. One sure-fire way we can "know" what God "thinks" is by reading His Word. Part of our role as pastors is to help people on their journey of spiritual transformation by renewing their minds. Hence, we should focus a great deal of time & effort on being an accurate handler of the Word. Francis Schaeffer once said something along the lines of "speaking boldly and with authority to those areas where the Bible speaks boldy and with authority" and "remaining silent" on those issues where it remained silent. I think more preaching and teaching should do that.

And, theology matters, man. If someone is teaching, their interpretations have a basis in their theological perspective. In other words, if you're listening to someone who is teaching from a "charismatic" position, you'll interpret some verses differently than someone from a non-charismatic position. And people are coming from all over the map: Calvinists, Reformed, Charismatic, Dispensationalists...oh, my, how that list could continue. My point is that consistency in interpretation will involve someone's theological perspective. There's no way around that. And, don't even get me started on all the sub-groups within all the things that would involve coming from all over the map. You can't gloss over these.

I've come to the conclusion that if theology matters, and our goal is transformation, then motivation for living the Christian life matters. Titus 2 helps us: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good. So communicate these things with the sort of exhortation or rebuke that carries full authority." If grace appeared, bringing salvation, and it trains us...then we'd best be about teaching it, eh?

Those very verses are the reason I can't understand why folks say that grace leads to spiritual slacking. If it's taught correctly, it doesn't.

Well, I don't have a lot of time for much more than this today...maybe tomorrow...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Scattered Thoughts on "Jesus Wants To Save Christians"

Twice last week, I posted selections from Rob Bell's new book. The gist of it is that the American church has some negatives associated with it...

...and the authors decided to point us in the right direction and encourage us to come up with solutions. It's a more provocative read than anything else. In a good way.

So, I've been doing some thinking on the questions I posited earlier: The idea of "engagement." In other words, how does the Church, and the individuals who comprise it, become more effective in our culture?

My initial thoughts, in no particular order:

I agree that the American church has positives associated with well as negatives. The blessings we have are generally good and can be used in ways that are honoring to God and show love. For example, many churches send members to build houses for the poor over spring breaks or summer vacation or long weekends or such. It's nice to have the resources to do that, in time, people and money.

I also agree that there are negatives if those resources are allocated selfishly and/or poorly. I don't think I need to list them here.

I'm seeing an awful lot of pulpit teaching these days where the words innovative and creative and "passion" and multimedia are being used. Now, don't get me wrong. Those are all postives. I mean, I don't want to bore people with the Word. I strive to be excellent at my craft. I want to be emotionally honest with myself and the audience I teach, too. I think film clips and book quotes and song lyrics can all illustrate points and be used to generate thinking and reflection. But when we overemphasize those things it might be entertaining and moving and such, but we usually wind up with entertained and "moved" hearers who immediately focus on what's for lunch 10 minutes after hearing from the pulpit.

It seems to me that so much of Rob's intent (which is good) is really asking the question of "How does the Church best LOVE the world?"

Because the reality to me is that Scripture's pretty clear on "the goal of our instruction" being "love." And that love should come from "a pure heart, and a good conscience and a sincere faith." No question that Paul, in 1 Timothy 1:5, was wanting folks to live faithfully and walk worthy. Oddly, much of what I hear on podcasts seems to direct the "goal" of instruction as either behavior management or straight-up knowledge...and when these are enhanced by multimedia or stories, well, let's just say that pastors hit their targets.

See, I think that we need to be focusing on "love" as the end-game. To me, it doesn't matter how we get to that (I like/use multimedia, for example) as far as I'm concerened. But when we "sell" behavior management then we'll get it. People may tithe more or stop drinking/gossiping/adultering or start having sex every day for a week, but will they LOVE more? Again, those are all good things in some ways, but motivation matters.

So, me & Rob are on the same page on the big idea: That we need to hear the cries of the world around us, and LOVE them. Whether or not they love us back. Whether or not they ever "accept our God." We should always being doing the most loving thing. Sometimes that will look like a "pro-life" marcher helping an unwed mother with medical bills. Sometimes that will look like a student getting training for ministry from seminary or Bible college. Sometimes that will look like a dad dropping the golf game for breakfast with the kids. Sometimes that will look like raising money for a well in a village in the Congo. Sometimes it will raise awareness for the homeless by sleeping outside. Sometimes it's going on a church retreat to gain a better understanding of marriage/finances/parenting/the book of Timothy. Sometimes it's a mom ignoring her daily devotional to dump out a tub of Legos. Sometimes it's...

...I could go on.

But that's enough for today.

And tomorrow I want to touch on how we encourage love: By grace and truth.
Anne Hathaway... Rachel Getting Married was brilliant.

It's one of those movies that starts out in a trendy movie festival in the mountains or in a big city where the areas are designated by combining street names to identify the locale or they give some sort of gold leaf for winning. Then it shows in theatre houses designed to show movies that win awards at trendy movie festivals. If said movie has a chance to make money, somebody buys it and sends it to major theatre chains that use the chain's name and then "select" after it.

That's usually when I see them.

That usually means that the movie doesn't resolve nicely, if at all. Nothing explodes. Matthew McConaughey or Kate Hudson usually aren't involved. Few take off their clothes, and if they do, it usually involves a bath. Sometimes, they end with the word "fin."

Anyway, this was one of those movies.

And it was good...but really heavy for an end-of-the-week evening. It was different. I'm pretty sure it won, or will win, a palm shaped trophy or whatever else if it hasn't already.

But I can tell you this: If Anne Hathaway isn't nominated for an Oscar this year for this performance, the system is screwed. It was, by far and away, the most impressive acting performance I've seen in 3 years and over 100 movies.


Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm Aware That A Good Question Requires A Thoughtful Response..., I'm going to wait a day to give you more time to respond to the Rob Bell quote on Thursday. I was really hoping for a little more interaction, kids, before I expounded. Give it some thought, have a cup of joe, and get back to me on that, okay? Thanks!
Friday Football Picks, Week #10

A 5-5 week last week, taking the season record to 48-41-1. We're hitting the home stretch of conference games and I'm hoping to finish with a bang. Man, it seems like I'm more or less limping along after a strong start to the season. On to this week's games:

Georgia at Auburn (+8.5): Are you kidding me? The Auburn-Georgia game, the Deep South's oldest rivalry, is the 11:30AM game on Raycom? Wow. And, frankly, I think they know something Vegas missed: Georgia hung 45 & 37 on Auburn in the last two years...when they were much better on defense. Stafford & Moreno will have a pretty easy day of it with Auburn's anemic offense sputtering. Diner Prediction: Georgia 33, Auburn 13.

Mississippi State (+20.5) at Alabama: Bama's been Croomed the last two seasons, and this season the Tide is making sure they've crossed the "t's" and dotted all the "i's." Saturday it won't be any different, and Sylvester's seat will start getting warm. There's been a lot made of MSU's 6-3 win over Bama (in 1980, the last time they played with Alabama ranked #1) but that's just window dressing. Bama and Florida are the class of the SEC this year and you'll see it displayed clearly. Diner Prediction: Alabama 35, Mississippi State 10.

Texas A&M (+8) at Baylor: Baylor a favorite? By more than a touchdown? You bet. Granted, Robert Griffin's interception turned last week's game against Texas around, but the freshman quarterback has thrown for nearly 1,800 yards this season and run for almost 700. He gives them a chance against Big 12 opponents...and A&M gives up lots of big plays. The Bears' 4-game losing streak comes to an end in Waco. Diner Prediction: Baylor 34, Texas A&M 24.

California (+3) at Oregon State: Oregon State actually has the inside track to the Rose Bowl. They're unbeaten at home, too. But I think that's actually what works against them. The meat of their Pac-10 schedule is coming up and I really like the athleticsim of Cal's Riley & Best. Best leads the team in rushing and receiving and he'll get them past the Beavers in Eugene. Diner Prediction: California 21, Oregon State 17.

Boston College (+6.5) at Florida State: Those of us who went to college in the 80's remember what the Seminoles used to be and those images don't leave. But, as Bobby Bowden gets ready to turn the reigns over to Jimbo Fisher, they've become a smash-mouth running team...and the combination of Smith & Thomas wears out defenses. Being in Tallahassee, I'll give the points in what should be a lower-scoring battle of running teams. Diner Prediction: Florida State 21, Boston College 14.

Texas at Kansas (+13): There's been some question of McCoy's health since he got his lip busted against Tech in Lubbock. His rushing performance dictates his passing success and the last 3 games the Texas line hasn't helped him out. For the Jayhawks, Reesing's already thrown for 3,000 yards. The problem is their defense...which I don't think will be enough to keep Texas (who still has national championship vision) from winning. It'll look like a video game, though. Diner Prediction: Texas 42, Kansas 28.

Ohio State at Illinois (+9.5): Ohio State is back in business in the Big 10. They won't play for it all, because the serious question is being raised on whether the MAC is a better conference, top to bottom, than the Big 10. However, the Buckeyes are champions and smell roses. They'll play like it on the road, even with the Fighting Illini's potent offense. I think the Buckeye defense will keep them in check, and OSU's a different team with Pryor at the helm. Diner Prediction: Ohio State 27, Illinois 17.

Arizona (+4) at Oregon: The Ducks didn't play well last week against Stanford, and Arizona can score in a hurry. In other words, they are better at being Oregon than Oregon is this year. And, the measuring stick is USC...which demolished Oregon, and Arizona fought hard in a losing effort. It should be close, and playing in Eugene will help...but I like the Wildcats, who oddly enough, are supposed to Bear Down. Diner Prediction: Arizona 27, Oregon 25.

Oklahoma State at Colorado (+17): The only question in my mind is how big is the drop off between the Big 12 North and the Big 12 South? I mean, in one half of the conference is ranked in the top 10 and the other in the bottom. And, OSU's really good, taking Texas to the wire before running into the Tech buzzsaw last week. Their defense should be good enough against a more conventional offense even if the Buffs are improved over last year. Diner Prediction: Oklahoma State 35, Colorado 21.

South Carolina (+21) at Florida: Seriously. Is anybody in the nation playing better than the Gators right now? South Carolina does have Steve Spurrier, who would like nothing better to put the kibosh on the Gators romp to the SEC championship meeting with Bama, but he just doesn't have the horses that Meyer does in Gainesville. He'll have 'em rested and ready, but it won't be enough. And Tebow is playing like the Heisman Tebow of last year. Diner Prediction: Florida 38, South Carolina 20.

Well, there they are...whattya think?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

There Will Be An Another Test

A couple of days ago, you might remember I quoted an extensive passage from Rob Bell & Don Golden's new book Jesus Wants to Save Christians. The subtitle is "A Manifesto for the Church in Exile."

Anyway, the subject that I highlighted came from chapter 5, where the authors illustrated the reality that the church in America faces trouble when dealing with affluence. It's hard to feel revolutionary when there's not much to rebel against. It's hard to connect with a Savior who interacted with prostitutes and tax collectors. It's hard to relate to the world's needs when you don't have many needs. Remember?

So, I simply left the question at the end of the illustration that the youth pastor asked you, a visitor to his youth ministry group, which was "I just can't get my students engaged with Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?"

Now, what I'd like to do is give you a sampling of the solution the authors set forth. So, here's selected snippets from chapter 6 and the Epilogue, which I think will give you a flavor of what the author's "manifesto" is about (you'll need to know that they use the word "eucharist" as it should be literally translated--good gift--and that Jesus was God's good gift to the world, so they use the word interchangeably with "Christ."):

"The Eucharist is about the new humanity...In the new humanity you hear perspectives you don't normally hear, you walk in someone else's shoes, you find out the judgments you had previously made about the group of people or that kind of men or that kind of women or all those kids simply don't hold up because now you're getting to know one of 'those' and it's changing everything. You learn that labels for different groups of people groups are insufficient, because people are far more complex and unpredictable and intelligent and creative...

This is why it is very dangerous when a church becomes known for being hip, cool and trendy. The new humanity is not a trend. Or when a church becomes known for attracting one particular kind of demographic, like people of this particular age or education level, or that particular social class or personality type There's obviously nothing wrong with the powerful bonds that are shared when you meet up with your own tribe, and hear things in a language you understand and cultural references are made that you are familiar with, but when sameness takes over, when everybody shares the same story, when there's no listening to other perspectives, no stretching and expanding and opening up--that's when the new humanity is in trouble...

A church is where tow people groups with blue hair--young men and older women--sit together and somehow it all fits in a Eucharistic sort of way. Try marketing that. Try branding that. The new humanity defies trends and demographics and the latest marketing research...

The Eucharist confronts its culture with the question, If we can spend a trillion dollars on a war, what else could we spend a trillion dollars on? Water? Food? Medicine? Education?...The Eucharist is about people with the power empowering the powerless to make a better life for themselves. The church says no to the animating spirit of religious empire, the one which leads Christians to look no different than the world around them. Churches can easily become centers for assimilation, where the seats in the sanctuary are eerily similar to the seats in the cinema, the website offers all of the programs to meet your specific religious needs, and the coffee in the hallway is just as good as in the shops across the street...

...Because everything begins with the cry. It begins with someone crying and someone else hearing. And it's hard to hear the cry when you're isolated from it. In Proverbs it's written that the rich man's wealth is a 'fortified city.' People fortify cities with walls meant to keep people out. But the problem with walls is they also keep people in...walls isolate. So can gates. And freeways. And school systems. And grocery stores. And health clubs. And shopping malls. And homes. And office buildings. But when we hear the cry everything changes...

And whatever it is, it will not be boring. Tomorrow will not be like today. And it will cost something. The Eucharist always does. It isn't just about trying to save the world. It's about saving ourselves. From the kingdom of comfort. From the priority of preservation. From the empire of indifference. From an exile of irrelevance....and when we listen and go, it iwll never be about guilt. It will never be on the heels of 'Well, I guess I'm supposed to.' The Eucharist doesn't work like that...It comes from being captivated by a great cause--one so massive and compelling that you'd sell everything to be a part of it. God is with us when we go, when we respond, when we hear, when we listen..."

Okay... you got the gist of it, right?

The answer is found in a church being one that is unified amidst natural differences in age/status/experience/et al/etc., and then it's found in getting outside the walls of the church and serving others and meeting needs.

Now, keep in mind this is nothing new. I mean, we've all heard sermons about getting outside the four walls and engaging the culture and how our congregations need to be converging and mixing. Heck, I've even given sermons like that.

So, before I blog tomorrow about football AND my random, scattered thoughts on this, I'd like to let you know that this is where the authors left off.

They didn't have a chapter on what these high-minded ideals actually LOOK like. My guess is that's what they wanted us thinking about. Because I was offended and encouraged and excited and mad all at the same time when I got to the end of the book (even through what might be some sloppy exegetical work in the epilogue, but still).

So, today's pop-quiz, keeping in mind the similar question of "how do I get the youth group engaged" is now "how do I get my church engaged?" What does this LOOK like to you? Engagement is tied to 'hearing the cry.'

Have at it, patrons. And, frankly, I'm expecting more comments than on yesterday's "sex" entry! :)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big Gulps, Huh? All right! Well...See Ya Later!

I love that line in the movie Dumb & Dumber because we've all been there: That moment where you have an awkward pause and don't know what to really say...and then, you just punt with "see ya later!"

Well, in the Dallas Morning News you can find this headline: Grapevine pastor wants married couples to have sex every day for a week.

Please read the article.

And I need you to comment to fill the silence.

Because, well, I'm having that "awkward pause" moment where commentary and explanation defy me so I'll have to punt & say, "see ya later."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

There Will Be A Test

So, I finished reading a provocative book by Rob Bell & Don Golden entitled Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Some of it, I loved. Some I wasn't sure where he was headed. But an enjoyable, thought provoking read, perfect for a couple of hours while listening to the pouring rain last night.

Anyway, the authors put forth a fantastic little scenario, and I thought we'd answer it here today in The Diner. It's from the tail end of chapter five. So, put your thinking cap on, patrons. And, try to stay with it for about three's a little long. Here we go:

"Imagine the average youth group in the average church on the average Sunday. Imagine visiting this youth group and having the pastor say to you, 'I just can't get my kids interested in Jesus. Do you have any suggestions.'

How do you respond?

To begin with, the church has a youth group. This is a brand-new idea in church history. A luxury. Everybody in the church doesn't meet all together? All the babies and older folks and men and women and widows and students aren't in the same room, but they've gone to separate rooms?

And there are resources for this? People and organizational structures and a budget? Let's imagine that in this case, the pastor, this youth pastor, is paid a salary for his or her work. A church with enough resources to pay someone to oversee students? Once again, this is a brand-new, almost unheard of in most churches in the world, and in church history. A brand-new invention.

This salary can be paid and this building can be built because the people in the congregation have surplus. They have fed themselves and their children and bought clothes and houses, and now, after these expenses, there is still money available. Adn this money is given in an act of generosity to the church which dispenses it to various places, among them the bank account of the pastor.

In many, if not most, of the churches in the world, immediate needs simply don't allow for such luxuries--too many people are hungry, too many don't have a roof, too many are sick--so any surplus is spent immediately on the basic needs staring them in the face.

People dying here.
Right now.

But this particular church is blessed, and we should be clear about this--it is blessing. It is good. It is fortunate that this particular church doesn't have those issues. this church has enough resources to hir a pastor who had the resources to get training to gather these students in the student room to teach them the way of Jesus. Many Christians around the world wold simply stand in awe of that kind of blessing.

And the students in the church, these are good kids. They are from families who just want to see their kids become good Christians.

Imagine just how much is available to them. They have more at their fingertips than any generation in the history of the world--more information, more entertainment, more ideas, more ways to kill time, more options.

Many of them own more than one pair of shoes.

There are even some among them who have eaten at least one meal every day of their lives.

So we are talking about a miniscule minority of kids in the world.

At the exit of the highway near their church is a Best Buy and a Chili's and a Circuit City and a McDonald's and a Wal-Mart and a Bed, Bath & Beyond, much like other towns in their state and their country. The music they listen to is distributed by one of the five major corporations, which also own the movie studios that create the movies they watch, which are also connected to the corporations that create the food they eat and the commercials they watch which also have significant ties to the clothes they wear and the cell phones they own, and the ring tone on their cell phones, the one by the artist who is signed to the record label that is owned by the same company that owns the cell phone company adn the advertising agency that announced the artist's new album, which is owned by the same company that owns the beverage company in whose advertisement the artist appeared, drinking that particular beverage, singing the song that is now a ring tone on the student's phones that they purchased at the mall across the street from the Olive Garden next door to the Home Depot on the other side of the Starbucks.

And each week they gather to hear a talk from the pastor.
Their pastor tells them about the Jesus revolution.
About Jesus resisting the system.
About the blood of the cross.
About many of the first Christians getting arrested.
About Jesus having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors.
About people sharing their possessions.
About Jesus telling a man to sell everything.
About the uniqueness of their story in the larger story of redemption.

How do children of the empire understand the Savior who was killed by an empire?

How does a twelve year-old who has never had hunger pangs that lasted more than an hour understand the story about a twelve year-old providing fish and bread for thousands of chronically hungry people?

How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity, take seriously a Messiah who said, 'I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor?

How do they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when their church just spent two years raising money to build an addition to their building?

They gather, they sing, they hear a talk from the pastor, and then they get back in the car with their parent and they go home: the garage door opens up, the car goes in, and the garage door goes down.

This is the revolution?

This is what Jesus had in mind?

And so the youth pastor turns to you and says, again, 'I just can't get my students engaged with Jesus. Do you have any suggestions?'

What do you say?

How do you respond?"


Have at it, kids.

Like I said...

...a very provocative read.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Last night, I was teaching Romans 12 to my high school class. We've been rolling through the letter Paul wrote to a church in Rome since late August...and we moved into the last major section of the book, which deals with what our response should be to the mercy and grace show through God's provision of salvation.

In verse 1, (which is written in the aorist tense in the Greek, suggesting a one-time act) Paul says that the spiritual life is to be lived as a living & holy sacrifice...our spiritual service of worship. The contrast of a living sacrifice that we offer would've blown the 1st century reader's mind since their sacrifices, offered by a priest, wound up dead. It all starts with a decision.

In verse 2, (which is present tense in the Greek, suggesting continuing action which would maintain the previous one-time decision) Paul starts that section with a negative & a positive: Don't conform to this world & do transform by renewing your mind. Don't let the world squeeze you into it's mold. Then, metamorphosis will take place as you begin to think about this life the way God thinks about this life. This is the prerequisite for experiencing God's will.

And, before I taught this section, I thought back on the times I've thought this section in the past and the lives I've seen transformed.

She's now serving as a pastor at a church in Colorado.
He writes curriculum for a very popular financial advisor in our Tribe.
He's with the Lord.
He and 4 she's are all in seminary right now. My seminary, too.
She is a full-time missionary.
They planted a church, and he pastors it.
He's an elder in a church.
He's a full-time young adult minister.
They (making 7, with 4 new ones who applied for this summer) are all summer counselors at Pine Cove in addition to their day-jobs as college students.
She's a wonderful wife and mother after a tumultuous high school life, and she's joyful now.
She's an incredible elementary school teacher.
She's a great coach.
They've become parents who are serious about Godly parenting, and seeing growth in their children.
She's become a successful business woman.
He's a firefighter.
He's a good husband and embarking on an engineering career.
He's a full-time youth minister.
She's an art instructor.
He works for a popular Christian music group.
She's trying to figure out what it's supposed to look like but joyfully seeking.

I could go on.

And I looked out at my students waiting to learn last night...

She came to know Christ this summer.
He is at the top of his class.
He is at the bottom of his class, but serves in our ministry and led one of his teens to Christ a month ago.
She goes to art school.
She is highly involved in drama.
She is a dancer.
He is a good athlete.
She had to drop her extracurriculars to get a job.
He visited for the first time.
He has asked me about what it would take to be a youth minister.
She has no idea what she wants to do or be, but is trying it all to see what she likes.
He serves in the children's ministry.
He started coming because his friend comes and likes what's going on.
He sits in the back and pays little, if any, attention. Or so it seems.
She comes because her parents make her. Or so it seems.
She comes from a broken home.
He is clueless that the girl sitting next to him wasn't by chance.

I could go on.

And as I sat there doing that thing where you look busy between the time you made the announcements and were getting ready for them to turn in there Bibles to what you're studying by shifting your notes on the music stand we use for a podium, I was reminded about how powerful the...

...transformed life...

...that little reality that if they'll make the one-time choice of verse 1, and the continual choice of verse 2, then they'll have the humble attitude needed for a meaningful ministry in the Body in verses 3--8.

...then they'll love without hypocrisy and abhor what is evil.
...then they'll be devoted to one another.
...then they'll serve diligently, being Spirit-led.
...then they'll rejoice in hope, persevere in trials, devote to prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, be hospitable.
...then they'll bless their enemies, and live at peace.
...then they'll rejoice & weep with those who rejoice & weep, or what we call doing life together.

All that stuff rounds out the chapter.

And I thought what a cool job I get to do: Watch people move from the 2nd little list to the first little list--both of which could be a lot longer.

And I said a prayer before I started that they'd move from that 2nd list to the 1st list because of what they heard tonight...

And I said a prayer that I'd be sensitive to how I could serve them along that little journey...

And I said a prayer that He'd remind me to be thankful when I saw it happen...

And I said a prayer of thanks that I have probably the coolest job in the world...

Because I major in transformation.