The Preacher’s Work Week – Part 1

Hebrews 10:25

Sunday Morning

As good dedicated Baptists do, we had services three times a week. On Sunday morning, there was Sunday School, then worship. On Sunday night, there were discipleship classes, then another worship service. On Wednesday night, there were missions oriented activities and prayer meeting. Although larger churches had choir practice on Wednesday, the churches I grew up in had no choir because then there would be no congregation. Here’s how each of these events looked close-up.

Sunday School

Sunday School was the time when young boys and girls were, against their will, dressed up in their Sunday best. For the boys this meant starched black slacks, starched white shirts, bow ties or neck ties, black socks, and spit-polished black shoes. The girls were adorned with modest dresses, white ankle socks, and patent black shoes. Have you ever tried to play Red-Rover in Sunday clothes? Well, it ain’t easy. We antsy young’uns listened for 45 minutes to whatever old codger – who had been shamed into teaching by his wife – agonizingly reading word-for-word the lesson from the Sunday School quarterly (issued four times a year).  He ended with, “Now think about those things.” Then we ended with a prayer.

preaching

Sunday morning worship was the big guns, the pinnacle of the week.  I could always sense a slight nervous energy in the air. I’m not sure why, because the service was fairly predictable. After the welcome and announcements, there was the Scripture reading. Our little country churches were informal enough that anyone could chime in during the announcements.  This included a recitation of the week’s events, which rarely varied, and prayer requests. I dreaded that part because it seemed to take forever, and my breakfast was already playing out. I didn’t care about Fred’s mother’s second cousin’s husband’s gall stones. I was hungry!

One of the deacons led the singing (no paid song leaders); three hymns, verses 1, 2, and 4. Even though we had a printed bulletin with the song titles and number in the hymnal, they were announced, each one twice, “Hymn number 412, ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers, number 412.” I never really knew why we skipped the third verse of every hymn. I speculated that third verses were reserved for less evangelical groups, like the Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians.

A few of the other men would take the offering, passing the plate, trying to strike that delicate balance of looking at you in a way that made you want to pitch in your folding money without drawing attention to the fact that they didn’t. I mean, if you take up the offering, that’s contribution enough, right? These offering takers were often viewed as Deacons-in-training. If you could be trusted with the offering, you could be considered as a potential Deacon (Luke 16:11).  One day, I will expound more on the Capital D Deacons. We don’t have time here and now.

Then came the Special Music. These were the original stars of  contemporary Christian music. That’s where you got your start. Special Music pre-dates The Voice, American Idol, and even karaoke. My sister began singing the Special Music early on.  My dad’s favorite request of her was “The King is Coming” by Bill Gaither.  I was glad when Pennye sang because the others, quite frankly, just weren’t very good. No matter, though. Whoever sang earned a throaty “Amen” from the deacons.

Next, the sermon. My daddy was a fine blend of teacher / preacher. He could expound on the Scripture and seamlessly shift into fire-and-brimstone. Daddy spent hours in his study, hammering away at a sermon, carefully selecting the Scripture passage and just the right words to convey its full meaning. When he preached, he never needed electronic amplification. He had a way of waking up the crowd when he sensed they were drifting into thoughts of football, fishing, or the roast in the oven. On one Sunday, he pounded the pulpit; “There are lost people all around you going to hell, and you don’t give a damn!  Right now, more of you are concerned about the fact that I said, ‘damn’ than you are about those lost people!” Another time he announced he was going to preach from the Sears and Roebuck catalog because no one cared to bring their Bible to church, so they wouldn’t know the difference. The most scathing sermons, however, were those that included the 10 second silent pause for effect, followed by the words, “Wesley…go sit with your mother!” Oh, the shame, the guilt, the depth of remorse is unspeakable.

Once the congregation was sufficiently under conviction, then came the invitation; “Just as I Am,” or “Living for Jesus” or “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” The struggling mourners would walk to the front of the church to get saved. If they were already saved, they would rededicate their life. If they were saved and rededicated, they would just kneel and pray. I was always most impressed with the praying kneelers. They were certainly the most spiritual.

Finally, the benediction, offered by another of the men. I could finally loosen my tie, eat Sunday dinner, and watch the Dallas Cowboys whip up on their foe of the week. My next post will reveal my favorite service, Sunday night.

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Published in: on September 14, 2017 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Tracks in the Snow

Matthew 16:24

My daughters are 18 months apart. Amber was born in September, one year after we were married, and Alyssa was born the next November.  They were beautiful babies, but having two in diapers is challenging, often draining.  Amber, the older daughter, was a free spirit from day one. She always charted her own course, an experiential learner. It was not enough to tell her not to touch the stove. She needed to know just how hot it really was.  Alyssa was the compliant child. Often, after her older sister received discipline, she would approach me and assert, “I’ll never do that, Daddy.” She was also compliant to her sister’s adventurous nature, at least in her formative years. Intuition might say raising kids gets easier as they learn to walk. Oh no. Chasing two toddlers is like herding cats or stacking BBs. In fact, it’s like herding BBs or stacking cats. It’s not easier.

Now, everyone knows not to leave Dad in charge of the children, not for long. My wife was beginning her teaching career and needed some help with the kids. Most days, my mother-in-law could keep them, but sometimes I had to step in.  My job as a Youth Pastor didn’t pay all that well, but the schedule was flexible, and that was a big help with two little ones.  I could work from home, tend the children part of the day, and still get my work done. Therefore, I believed myself to be a perfectly capable parent and multi-tasker.

When I was in charge of the girls, one of my rules was everyone takes a nap after lunch. That was a great rule. While little tummies are digesting, they can recharge and refresh. It’s completely healthy. Again, I was proud of my prowess as a young parent; that is…until I realized I was the only one actually sleeping.  That stark discovery hit me on a November afternoon after our first snow of the season.  I fed the girls and put them down, then I too drifted off.  I was having the craziest dream. There were faint cries.  Slowly, I came to and realized this was no dream. I hurried into the girls’ room, only to discover they were not there. I checked every other room.  I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them.  Frantically, I ran outside and into the front yard.  I looked down the street and saw both girls, in their little night-gowns, walking down the sidewalk… barefoot.  Amber had decided she needed to take Alyssa to the park at the end of the street, so she was leading her by the hand. Alyssa was cold and crying, but dutifully following her big sister, who was boldly blazing the path.

To this day, I can feel the heart-stopping sensation of hearing faint cries and seeing their little footprints in the snow.  I think of it every time I hear the song “Footsteps of Jesus” or I see the little poem “Footprints in the Sand.” (I confess to the guilty pleasure of laughing at the spoof, “Buttprints in the Sand.)

Most of us have that one person in our lives who we will follow. For one reason or another, we have chosen to love, trust, and emulate that person. With that understanding, I would like to suggest two simple challenges: 1. Make sure you are following a person who leads you in the right direction. 2. Make sure you are leading those who follow you in the right direction.

footsteps

 

Published in: on September 6, 2017 at 9:16 am  Comments (1)  

Happy, Hippy, Hillbillies

Isaiah 43:2

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

At this writing, I watch the still unfolding news of Hurricane Harvey and the devastation in Houston and all along the Texas Gulf Coast.  This area has a special place in my heart. For years, my uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandmother, and for a time, my mother lived near Houston and Galveston.  I’ve spent many days and nights in my childhood and adult years enjoying the hospitality of my mother’s family down there.

Let me explain a bit about these folks. First, there is Pat, my mother’s younger sister, and her husband Don. These are true salt-of-the-earth people.  It’s important to understand that we do not agree on politics or theology.  We have enjoyed many a spirited debate, relaxing by the fish pond, watching the koi do their fish, thing.  Our favorite family description of their disposition is happy, hippy, hillbillies. We share a love of music, literature, and all things motorcycle. We all know that we will disagree and keep right on loving the stuffing out of each other.  Pat will greet you with a hug and a kiss, and Don will hand you a beverage of your choice, and tell his newest story.  These folks are so laid back, they were late to their own wedding! Eventually, Uncle Glenn got them hitched, and they headed off to their honeymoon in their VW van.

VW Van

Eddie, my mother’s youngest brother, is only two years older than I am. Therefore, we grew up more like brothers than uncle and nephew.  He spent many hours trying to teach me to surf, but the skill still eludes me.  I love to fish, but I only actually catch fish when I am with him.  We had many adventures in our youthful years, most of which will go unmentioned here. Patty, Eddie’s wife, has served as a tempering force in our escapades.  (Yes, Eddie’s sister is Pat. Eddie’s wife is Patty.  My cousin, Chelsea, was briefly married to a fellow named Ed – not a happy ending – and is now with her true soul-mate, Glen. We often have to clarify Pat or Pattie, Ed or Eddie, and which Glen.)  In the annual Reece Reunion campout, we can always count on Pat, Don, and Eddie to devise some “hillbilly” technology that is far superior to traditional boats, beds, campers, etc.

Pat taught English and drama for 30 years at Bishop O’Connell High School in Galveston. Although his true love was working as a longshoreman, when work on the ship docks played out due to mechanization, Don taught math for over 20 years at Houston Baptist University.  Countless lives were touched by their work.

We have learned that Eddie, Patty, and their daughter and son-in-law, Leah and Josh, as well as their other daughter, Missy and her friend Amber, are all safe and homes relatively intact.  Pat and Don’s daughters, Chelsea and Carolee, along with their families, are also doing ok.  My aunt and uncle, however, have lost all.  Their home is totally flooded, car and camp trailer destroyed, and essentially homeless.  These are folks who would literally (and have frequently) literally given the shirt off their back for someone in need.  If you don’t mind, join me in a prayer for my Coastal Kin. In addition, if you would like to do something tangible, you can click the link for instructions.

https://www.gofundme.com/helping-the-teltschiks

Pat Don

Published in: on August 29, 2017 at 12:17 pm  Comments (1)  

But…What About the Fish?

Luke 5:1-11

If you are a regular reader, you already know that my Daddy and Uncle Glen were more brothers than brothers-in-law. One of their favorite outings together was fishing.  It was a warm, sunny day when they took me, my brother David, and my cousin Darrell out on tiny Balmorhea Lake in a small “John boat” powered by a little pull-start outboard motor.  As was our custom, we shunned superfluous equipment, such as oars or life-vests.  After all, the lake is only 556 acres and 25 feet deep.  What could go wrong?

fishing

We set out with our Zebco 202 rod-and-reel, tackle box, worms, and minnows.  As we arrived on the other side of the lake and set up, the fish started biting almost immediately.  There are few things in life more fun than hitting a good solid crappie run.  We had brought a large tall trash can in which to keep the fish we caught.  Every one of us was catching fish as quickly as we could bait the hook. We were so busy catching fish, we totally missed the cloud bank building in the southwest. (We were on the northeast side of the lake.)

At the point when the trash can could contain no more crappie, my father looked up, elbowed Uncle Glen, and pointed to the sky. “That doesn’t look good.” Glen replied, “Yeah. We need to get out of here.”  Glen gave a single solid yank on the rope to start the motor. It jumped to life, and he hit the throttle.  We made it only a few dozen yards before hitting a solid patch of lily pads.  (Crappie love cover, and the lily pads were taken as the sign of a good fishing spot.) The motor kept running, but we weren’t going anywhere. The undergrowth was so thick, it had sheared the pin on the propeller.

At that point, it began to sprinkle.  The situation was about to get rough, as we could see the wind and rain coming across the lake.  We had to find a way to the nearest land and fast. (Did I mention no oars and no life-vests?)  The only possible option was to use the trash can as a make-shift oar. It was tall and skinny, so it just might work.  The problem was, we would have to dump out the fish.  There was a collective pregnant pause. What about the fish? It was a true dilemma, a conundrum, a classic Catch 22.  About that time a lightening bolt and clap of thunder brought us back to our senses…fish dumped.

Using only a trash can, my dad and Glen were able to keep the nose of the boat into the wind, thereby avoiding getting capsized, throughout the duration of the west Texas thunderstorm.  After an hour or so, we managed to make land unharmed and fish-less. We were glad to have our lives and sad to have lost the catch of a lifetime.

In the years that followed, Daddy and Uncle Glen often used that story as a sermon illustration when preaching on Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4). We had been in that very situation.  For me, however, there is another appropriate application.  That day, we chose to value human life over the massive haul of fish.

That’s what Jesus was getting at when he called his first disciples. They too were fishing. They too experienced a miraculous catch. Then, they had a choice; they could choose to finish celebrating and marketing their haul, or they could value serving people over their life-long career. Luke says they “forsook all,” fish, nets, boats, livelihood, and followed him.

The point I make is this: sometimes God gives us miraculous provision for our lives. He has done that for me more than a few times. Sometimes, though, he may call you to then forsake the very blessing he just sent you, in order to focus on a greater ministry.  It won’t be an easy choice. Keep in mind, though, it could get you out of a storm.

 

Published in: on August 22, 2017 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Spinning Tops

Ephesians 6:10-20

In Balmorhea, Texas, children learn to amuse themselves. In the days before X-Box, Nintendo, or even Atari, kids participated in all the dangerous pastime activities, such as riding bicycles (sans the helmet), skateboards (also free of cranial protection), wrist-rockets with sparrows as targets (sorry PETA), and marbles (shooting “knock-out” with the little ones in order to win the big ones). One favorite pastime for Tom Greenhill and me was spinning tops.

Two houses down from the parsonage there was a cement slab which, at one time, had been a house. The house had been torn down, so only the foundation remained. That hunk of smooth concrete served as a boxing ring, chalkboard, and a venue for world-champeen marbles and tops. Today, it would be suitable for the modern robot-wars.

tops

Spinning tops takes a bit of skill. First, you have to learn to properly wind the string, not too tight, not too loose.  You have to get a good slip-knot in the other end, the finger end.  Mastering a good grip is a bit like pitching in baseball. Different grips get different results when the top is released. Also, the spinner must learn how to spin a top that has been damaged. It was common to knock a chunk of wood out of the top, thus making it less stable in spinning.

I was still mastering baseball and football. My right eye was crossed. Yes, I was cross-eyed. The result was, even with thick, black-framed glasses, I had difficulty with depth-perception, and still do, to some measure. Therefore, I often got hit square in the face with a football or baseball. I was good at spinning tops, though.

A bit of background information is in order.  When I wasn’t in school, my attire was always the same, cut-off blue jean shorts…period. Shirts and shoes were a bother. The path to the concrete slab was fraught with peril and pitfalls.  One route was the caliche road, gravel and rocks. The other route was straight across the grassburrs. But the slab was worth the effort. Shoeless, I would brave the minefield to reach the arena.

On one particular occasion, Tom and I had agreed to meet at the slab for a Top-o-rama. He was in a hurry, as I was navigating the goatheads. Finally, he said, “I’ll give you a piggy-back. Just get on!”  Tom had a weakness for shoes, but I gave in and climbed on. (I’ve often wondered why that mode of transportation was called “piggy-back.” Perhaps a reader can enlighten me in the comments.) Tom carried me over to the slab, and just as we got there, he lost his footing.  I tumbled off at an angle and hit the corner of the concrete head first. Bang!

I got up and was wondering how much damage had been done when Tom’s eyes got really big. “Oh my gosh! Are you okay?” I looked down, and there was a pool of blood on the concrete.  “I guess I need a band-aid!” With blood running down my face, Tom piggy-backed me again through the minefield, and to the next yard. Then chaos. My sister, Pennye, saw the event and ran home in shock. My grandmother, Mammaw, had just arrived for a visit. Pennye was out of breath and trying to tell my mother what happened.  “Wes just cut his head o– (breath), o– (breath)…” Instead of filling in the blanks with “open,” my grandmother decided she was trying to say, “off.” She was distraught.  By the time I got to the house, there was mass hysteria.

Needless to say, I did not cut my head off.  I did cut it open.  My mother got some scissors and cut away the hair around the gash. She washed off the blood and put a criss-cross design with two band-aids, then wiped the rest of the blood from my face.  Within an hour, I was back in action.  For months afterward, I would proudly show the blood-stained slab to my friends, who were in awe that I could have survived such a catastrophe. I still rode my bicycle and skateboard without a helmet, and I have been known to ride my motorcycle the same (although I insist my passengers don’t). Shoes were still years away from being necessary.  I still have a dent on the right front lobe.

In retrospect, protective clothing has become more valuable to me over the years. On many occasions, I have found myself wishing I had taken the extra time to be prepared. Our enemy does not fight fair. It is much easier to have protection and not need it than to need it and not have it. Enjoy the Apostle Paul’s exhortation on the subject, and put on your armor.

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  

I Failed Coloring

Colossians 3:23-25

In 1986, Robert Fulgham wrote a clever little book, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.  He expounds simple life lessons from Kindergarten rules:

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.

I learned nothing in kindergarten.  Actually, I never attended kindergarten. It wasn’t required as part of public school, and most were private affairs, much like a day-care. I went for one day and told my parents, “No thanks.” I already knew how to do what they were doing. They were probably relieved, since they would have had to pay tuition out-of-pocket.

Off and on through my academic career, I struggled. It’s not that I’m a slow learner; I’m actually very bright and a quick study, and that was the problem. Once I had mastered a concept, I got bored and was ready to move on to bigger challenges. In kindergarten they were counting, learning their colors, and working puzzles. I could do all that. I wanted to learn to read, and that happened in first grade.

Bypassing the kindergarten experience, I did my “need to know” learning in first grade, and what a tutelage I had.  The first grade teacher at Balmorhea Elementary School was Mrs. Pox, a stout German frau whose personality matched her name, short, to-the-point, no-nonsense. She spoke, we obeyed.

sunflower

One day, we were instructed to color a sunflower for art.  The white paper with a bold, black, detailed outline of a large sunflower was distributed.  The instructions were clear. Outline the petals in black and color them yellow. Outline the seeds in black and color them brown.  Outline the stem and leaves in black and color them green. I have already mentioned my distaste for redundancy. I looked at the outline of the sunflower, and I could see no rationale for outlining all those seeds (there must have been over a  hundred) and all those petals, not to mention the leaves and stem. It was already outlined bold black! I hastily scribbled some yellow, some brown, and some green, and I laid it on Mrs. Pox’s desk, ready to move on. In previous exercises, I had already proven my ability to fully color within the lines.

As you might expect, I got the paper back with a big red “F.” I had to stay after school and re-color a brand new one. I was frustrated, humiliated, and agitated. The lessons I learned in first grade that day were simple.

  1. The hardest person to teach is someone who already knows.
  2. Details matter just as much as the big picture.
  3. Resist the “good enough” impulses.
  4. Complete seemingly meaningless tasks with as much fervor as important ones.
  5. Mrs. Pox is not one to be trifled with.
Published in: on August 8, 2017 at 3:20 pm  Comments (1)  

Itchy Feet? Shake the Dust off!

Matthew 10:14

Moving…again. I remember a conversation I once had with a parishioner who happened to be a high school coach.  He said, “Being a preacher is a lot like being a coach. If you’re good, you move on. If you’re not good, you move on.”  We both had a laugh about the precarious nature of tenure in the two professions.

In some Christian denominations, the congregation has no say in who their shepherd is. The denominational leaders appoint priests and pastors, based on their understanding of the needs of the congregation as compared to the strengths of a particular minister.  In others, there is a sort of confab between the local congregation and the upper administration, an agreement between the two. In Baptist churches, the autonomy of the local church is a prized and protected distinctive.  The local church votes on pastors. They vote them in, and they vote them out. A wise pastor will sense when his leadership is no longer effective. Given some time, he will seek another flock who is more open to his leadership style.  Occasionally, though, a minister will be caught off guard by a called business meeting.  It is an ironic occasion, as many inactive church members suddenly appear in the sanctuary for the first time in years. The old adage is “they wheel them in from the nursing home” in order to ensure the pastor they welcomed three years ago will now be sent packing.

I know of two such occasions in my father’s ministry. In one instance, he was ousted of a church in deep East Texas because he invited a black man to attend services. Word of his offense got around, and he was met in the parking lot by deacons with shotguns. “Ain’t no #@%$ n—–r comin’ in this church!” He let them know, in no uncertain terms and in their own vernacular, that if his friend couldn’t come, he couldn’t stay. On another occasion, I really don’t fully know what happened. On a Wednesday night, we had prayer meeting. Immediately afterward, the deacon chair announced a business meeting. My father must have had advance warning. He immediately took out his key ring and started removing the keys to the building. “I’ll save you the trouble” he said.  He then excused his family from the room, instructing us to wait at the parsonage. An hour later he returned, placed a baseball bat by the front door, and said, “They had better not come in here.”

On both occasions, we packed up to move – without really knowing where – and he stood outside the U-Haul truck and stamped his feet, shaking off the dust. “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (or for that church).  There are certainly mean preachers in the ministry, but there are also mean churches. One church leader berated my father for having the audacity to wear red socks in the pulpit. In my own ministry, I was called to task for not wearing a jacket on Sunday night, although I was wearing a tie. It seems the jacket without a tie was more appropriate. I have endured being yelled at in a meeting. (I had neglected to obtain a photo of the evangelistic team coming in for a revival meeting.)

Moving-Day-3_0

As a child, I never really minded moving. It meant a new town and a new adventure and, hopefully, new friends. I am older now, and moving is not as appealing.  They say, “three moves equals one fire.” Something important always gets broken.  Not too long ago, I realized I have now lived in the same house for seven years.  That’s a record. The ministry can be ruthless when a disagreement with the church board means losing not only your job, but your home, as well.  Whether moving is a result of a forced resignation or a better situation, that background in my life gave me itchy feet. After a few years, something in me said it was time to start looking.  That’s not always healthy, though, and I must confess that my congregations were mostly very congenial and sad to say good-bye when we left.  A couple of them have a tiny pile of dust somewhere in the parking lot.

Jesus’ instruction to those he sent out was plain.  Don’t spend a lot of energy where you know you’re not welcome. If your message is falling on deaf ears, move on. If you are not welcome, there are no heavenly brownie points for simply making your own life more miserable for another year.

I think I may have one more move left in me. I have often fantasized about a small beach cottage. At Christmas time there is a commercial showing just such a home. You hear someone whistling “Oh Christmas Tree,” then a palm tree lights up with Christmas lights. That serene setting appeals to me.  Maybe when I retire.

Published in: on August 2, 2017 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Glass Houses and Fishbowls

I Peter 2:9

pe-cu-li-ar: (adj.) strange or odd; unusual

From birth, a PK (preacher’s kid) is different.  Just as the parent is set aside for a singular purpose, the PK is included in the unique situation.  Living in the parsonage is often likened to living in a fishbowl.  Your life is transparent to anyone and everyone.  This tends to create a situation in which the child, early on, begins to develop strategies to be just like everyone else, normal. It’s an uphill battle.  Once your peers are informed of your heritage, it begins.

stand-by-me

PKs are especially prone to peer-pressure and bullying. Recently, I was telling a friend about my formative years. Somewhere around sixth grade, I spent most afternoons wondering who would try to beat me up that day.  I wanted nothing more than to simply be “one of they guys;” I just wanted to fit in. In those efforts, I usually went overboard trying to prove my normality.  I was an easy target for peer pressure.  I remember the neighborhood fellas daring me to throw a rock through the window of the vacant house, just to prove I wasn’t a “goody-two-shoes.” (I won’t recount the story here, but Google the term. It was originally a tale designed to motivate children to live a virtuous life.) I bent down, picked up a stone of adequate size, and threw it straight and true. CRASH! As schoolboys do, they all scattered, and left me staring at the results of my vandalism.

I ran home and hid in my bedroom.  I sheepishly moved around the house, waiting to see if I had gone undiscovered. The rest of the afternoon went by, and it was finally bath-time to get ready for bed. I had escaped.  There I was, naked in the tub and counting my toes, when my father walked in. “Come here.” I was naked in more ways than one. He didn’t even let me dress. He wrapped a towel around me and led me to the front door. The stranger there turned out to be the owner of the rent-house under renovation. I wondered what that sticker on the window meant. It meant they were brand new windows.  I had never seen this man before. How in the world did he know I was the culprit? There wasn’t even a line-up with the other boys, just me.  There went my allowance for the month.

I had not only embarrassed myself, but also my father. He was serious about the way his children’s actions reflected on his ministry.  At one point a year or so later, he was especially irritated at my grades in school.  I brought home three Cs.  Have I mentioned I am a “junior?” He was Arthur Wesley Wellborn Sr. I was Arthur Wesley Wellborn Jr. After one lick of the belt for each C on the report card, he sternly asserted, “Boy, that’s my name you’re carrying around in this world, but you’re acting like a jack-ass.  If you keep this up, I’ll take you to the courthouse and change your name to Jack Ass.”  I believed him. The next report card was nothing lower than an A. He put his arm around my shoulder, and told me he was proud. He then pulled out a brand new pocket-knife as a reward.

These days are a little different. It’s not just preacher’s kids who are under scrutiny.  There is literally nothing hidden. Digital technology assures that. We all live in fish bowls.  Our actions are open and permanently recorded for everyone to see. Everything comes to light at some point.  In many ways, I still feel different, peculiar, odd. In many ways, I still want nothing more than to feel “normal,” whatever that means. It does give me comfort, however, to know that God’s people are different by design. We are different for a reason. As Christians, it is Christ’s name we carry through the world.  We are set apart in that world, and if “normal” means clinging to the darkness rather than proclaiming the light, maybe being peculiar isn’t such a bad thing.

Published in: on July 27, 2017 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Hot Daawgs; Getcher Hot Dogs!

Mark 7:19

I am told that today, July 19, is National Hot Dog Day.  We Americans do love adding yet another reason to celebrate.  Today, we celebrate that wonderfully horrible food that stands for everything we are as a nation. The hot dog’s glorious mixture of meats represents the blending of cultures, where beef, poultry, and pork co-exist in a harmonious state.  The resourcefulness of our forefathers is echoed in the use of each and every part of the animal. The simplicity of preparation makes a cook out of anyone. That most American of foods, today, we salute you.

Oscar Mayer

Wieners were a staple at our house when I was growing up, along with tube steak (bologna). Although we never missed a meal, we were often unsure of where our next meal would come from.  Beans and cornbread, bologna, and wieners were the substance of our sustenance. Sometimes they were dressed up with cheese and stuck in a slice of bread. Other times, they were simply naked.  Strangely enough, bologna was the only one of those entrees I lost a taste for.  Somewhere around sixth grade, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I still love beans and cornbread, and I still love hot dogs.

I’ve only gotten sick from food twice in my life; both events involved hot dogs.  The first time was on a family vacation.  I’ve already told you about our trips to Medina, Texas. Often, there were other pastors and their families at the same facility, enjoying much needed respite. One year, I think I was eight years old, the whole lot of us had a cookout. I waited my turn in line, then I scarfed down my first dog. I returned for a second…and a third…a fourth. In all, I consumed eight hot dogs that night.  Needless to say, later that night, I let the dogs loose. (Now you know the answer. I let the dogs loose.)

The second event took place my junior year in college.  On the last day of finals, I finished my exams at around 3:30 pm.  I had an eight hour drive ahead of me, so my brother (who was a freshman at the same school) and I decided to take in a movie, get a night’s rest, then drive home the next morning when we were fresh.  We went to the local cinema and watched Arnold Schwartzenegger in Conan the Barbarian.  I had a jumbo dog at 9:15 pm.  At 2:30 am, the jumbo dog had me.

Many folks would have given up on the lowly dog, after just one of those episodes. Not me. I have been loyal to the dogs, and they have been loyal to me.  I have often entertained the idea of having a hot dog cart as a retirement job.  A well-placed hot dog cart – near a park or river or lake or downtown offices – can net the owner a pretty nice cash reserve. There is low overhead, low maintenance, and simplicity of process.  You can’t lose.

In our health-conscious society, the wiener has taken a lot of criticism lately.  To that, I simply respond, “Jesus declared all foods clean.”  Sounds impossible?  Well, if he can declare clean anyone who comes to him, no matter what they have done…no matter what… can’t he just as easily use a hot dog for that most Baptist of prayers, “And bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”

Published in: on July 19, 2017 at 10:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Christian Cursing

James 3:10

I’ve already introduced you to Tom Greenhill, my best friend for the four years we lived in Balmorhea, Texas.  Tom’s dad, the Methodist pastor, had several children. I can’t remember now if there were four or five Greenhills, but I know there were more Greenhills than Wellborns.  It seems one of them may have been allergic to cow’s milk because I remember they kept goats.  It was the goats and the Greenhills that introduced me to cursing.

First, you should know we were not allowed to curse. That was one of the “big” sins. Not only that, we were not allowed to use by-words.  A by-word is a word you use to get by without actually cursing.  Therefore, you have words such as “shoot” and “darn.” My father’s approach was curse-words (and by-words) showed ignorance and disrespect.  If you can’t express your thoughts and feelings in legitimate verbiage, it shows you have a limited vocabulary and need further education.  My dad was consistent, too. I never remember him uttering profanity, even when he hit his thumb with a hammer. He would simply grit his teeth and grunt.

 

Back to the Greenhills. We all know cute and funny goats are, forgetting that Jesus always, always used goats in negative terminology and metaphor.  I remember one day at the Greehill home seeing the oldest daughter experience some displeasing event and spitting out a quick and venemous, “dammit!”  I had never heard the word before, but there was something mature and adventuresome about the way she said it.  She was older and pretty, and I kind of liked the way she said it.

goat lick

It was a week or two later when Tom and I were in their back yard playing with the goats.  One of the goats bit me, so I spat out a quick and grown-up, “dammit!” Everything and everyone around me froze.  All the Greenhills stared at me.  All the neighbors stared at me.  God stared at me.  Scripture rightly asserts, what you have said in secret will be shouted from the housetops.  I ran home, but the news of my vulgarity beat me there. I humbly accepted my sentence of a spanking, a mouth-washing, and a lecture.  To this day I think it was unfair that the very Greenhill daughter who taught me the word was the same one who reported my use of it to my parents.  At age six, in one day, I learned the dangers of loose-lips and worldly women.

Years later, when I was attempting to learn golf (preachers love golf, so I tried to fit in) I again found the need for self-expression of negative emotion.  This time I invented “Christian cursing.”  In retrospect, it was truly another fashion of by-words, but sometimes you just need a good interjection.  Teeing off into the sand-trap, I invented words like “flibberjibbit” and “snagdabbit.”  Shortly after that, a movie called “A Christmas Story” stole my approach.  I still laugh when I watch that movie and the dad spews his modified D-words and F-words.

What’s the point?  My dad taught me that cursing is actually cursing.  In biblical times, placing a blessing on someone – wishing them well – had an antithesis, cursing. Damnation is a bad thing, and “damn you” wishes that bad on the other person.  Cursing spews sewage on everyone who hears it.  I’m not the speech police, but I still wax bold when someone is flaunting their ignorance of the language by slinging their curses on everyone within earshot.  My spouse often worried when I reminded some young buck, giving a stern look, “I have my wife and children here. Please watch your language. I won’t ask you again.”  I’ve never had to ask twice.  They know it’s inappropriate, and they immediately apologize.

There was a popular country song recently about a father who hears his toddler son spout a curse word. He asks where the son heard language like that.  The son replies, “I learned it from you, Dad! I want to be like you!”

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)