The Ordinances – Part II; Baptism

Matthew 28:19

As good and faithful, Bible believing Baptists, we did not have the seven sacraments; we had the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Preacher’s kids regularly practice both. In fact, any time we were near any body of water that was more than knee-deep, we baptized.  There weren’t any true converts waiting to have their sins washed away, but we practiced doing it anyway, just in case.  There must have been something in us that wanted to honor the somber nature of baptism yet have fun.  The solution was to dunk each other “in the name of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy!”  We dared not invoke the name of the Holy Trinity into potential blasphemy.

baptism

Living in west Texas means there are regular dust storms.  Regular dust storms means the baptistery must be cleaned before each and every service which included the joyful ordinance.  My father took special joy in sweeping, mopping, and rinsing the tank before baptism services. We could see it in his eyes as he labored.

On one occasion, we decided to help. In fact, we offered to do it for him.  After the communion fiasco, he was reluctant, but as any good father would, he offered us a second chance.  On Sunday afternoon, we gathered our broom, mop, and bucket to prepare for the task.  We swept and swept. Then, we liberally applied Tide detergent over the floor of the baptistery, so we could mop it.  I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but something distracted us, and we left the building.  My father, thinking we had finished, crawled under the platform to where the water valve was, and he turned it on.  It takes about 45 minutes for most baptisteries to fill up, so he then went home for a bit. (Wait for it).

When he came back to turn the water off, there was a four-foot-high mountain of suds on top of the water.  By that time, it was only a few minutes until the service was scheduled to start.  He scraped as much of the suds off the top as he could, but not nearly enough.  When the curtains opened to reveal him standing in the baptistery awaiting the candidate, gasps then snickers and giggles swept over the congregation.  He had forewarned the poor fellow, who took it all in stride with good humor. Never was a convert so thoroughly cleansed of his sins.

Through the years, there were many instances of baptizing a younger believer who loved to chance to be in the mini-pool. There was more than one occasion when the baptized was significantly taller and heavier than the baptizer. I usually just told those guys to sit down, as if on a chair then stand back up. You have to be careful to get their top-knot under the water, though.  One fellow was so large, he doused the back row of the choir when he went under. It was sort of like Shamu at Sea World.

No matter the circumstances, we Baptist are good dunkers. We were named for it, and we take special pleasure in doing it. “Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in new life.”

Published in: on April 14, 2016 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment  

The Ordinances – Part 1; Body and Blood

I Corinthians 11

As good and faithful, Bible believing Baptists, we did not have the seven sacraments; we had the two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  It’s interesting how our Protestant rejection of “dead tradition” often evolved into staunch traditions of our own. For instance, we had the Lord’s Supper once a quarter; that’s four times a year, and only at night.  I remember one time when my father suggested including “communion” as part of the morning worship.  He ran afoul of the deacons who instructed him that “Those other denominations have communion. Baptists have the Lord’s Supper. If we have it in the morning, it can’t very well be the Lord’s Supper, can it. It would be the Lord’s breakfast!”

As a child, I remember thinking the whole thing was a little bit spooky. The trays were set on a long table with a white table cloth covering them.  The outline of the trays on that covered table almost looked like a body.  The deacons would silently lift the cloth and meticulously fold it, laying it aside.  My father would somberly quote the passage from I Corinthians 11.

23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

After everyone ate and drank, the trays were placed back on the table and the cloth returned to its original place.  It wasn’t until I was grown that I realized it was purposefully intended to portray a body, Christ’s linen-covered body, on the rock-hewn table of the tomb borrowed from Joseph of Arimethea. (I’ve often mentally rehearsed a fictitious conversation between Jesus and Joseph. “Hey, Joseph, can I borrow your tomb? I’ll only need it for a couple of days. Then you can have it back.) At the end of the service, we would stand, hold hands, and sing “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”

As preacher’s kids, all that didn’t matter. What was really important was, after the service was over, we got to snack on the leftover crackers and juice. I don’t know if the mystique lay in the spiritual mysteries symbolized or simply the fun of tiny little crackers and tiny cups of juice. It was a quarterly treat, and we loved it.  I remember one particular Saturday in Balmorhea when my father prepared the trays for the next Lord’s Day.  My brother, sister, and I snuck over to the church and feasted on the bounty. We ate every cracker and drank every cup.

Communion_Baptist

I’m pretty sure that was a violation of St. Paul’s clear instructions in his letter to the Corinthians that we are to wait on each other and not struggle to be first to eat.  Well, we were by far the first. Daddy rarely got angry, but he was mad! Actually, he was frantic, then angry.  You see, in Balmorhea, Texas, the store (singular) closed at 6:00 pm on Saturday and did no open again until Monday morning at 8:00 am. The same was true for Pecos, the next town over.  After a couple of hours of frantic phone calls, he finally found a church member who had a box of Nabisco Saltines and a bottle of Welch’s grape juice: crisis averted.

When I became established in ministry, communion became my favorite observance.  Of course, by the time I had reached my first pastorate, most churches were willing to have the service once a month, in the morning, and call it communion.  Now that’s progressive! What made it my favorite service, though, was the way the deacons in that first congregation carefully and lovingly prepared it. They actually baked the bread and aged the juice (just a little). The care they took truly impressed me. More than that, they truly lived in Christian unity as they observed Christ’s sacrifice.

The ingredients of the elements and the frequency of the meal mean nothing if they don’t lead to one-ness in Christ.  My brother-in-law recently told me of a church member who refused to attend church because of some disagreement, but he insisted the deacons bring communion to him at his home, so he could take the elements without being around “those people.”  That attitude reminds me of the new trend in some mega-churches. By sheer necessity, they buy the all-in-one communion cups. Peel back the top layer to access the wafer, and peel back the next layer to access the juice. I don’t think it’s actually bread. It’s more like that silicon packet in the bottom of the box, the one that says “DO NOT EAT!” The juice tastes something like Pennzoil 10-40. Well, maybe we could just mail those tasteless little packets out to the contrary Christians who want to be one with the body, all alone.

Published in: on April 7, 2016 at 10:52 am  Comments (1)  

15 Miles Past “Resume Speed”

Luke 14:23

I often remember a song that was popular in the days of the Jesus Movement. I remember when we played our guitars and sang with fervor:

Little country church on the edge of town, Doot’n-doot’n, do-do-do-do.

People coming everyday from miles around, Doot’n-doot’n, do-do-do-do.

And it’s very plain to see, it’s not the way it used to be, No-no-no

People aren’t stuffy like they were before, They just want to praise the Lord.

People aren’t talkin’ bout religion no more, They just want to praise the Lord.

My dad and uncle pastored those little country churches in west Texas towns, where the names of the towns were also descriptors. Brownfield, Littlefield, Plainview, Levelland, Sundown, and Needmore conjure up images that are exactly what they sound like.  Of course, there are some other towns that were named in irony, like Big Lake; it’s not big and there isn’t a lake. When my dad met someone who was unfamiliar with the area, they would ask, “Where is that?” His response was usually, “That’s 15 miles past ‘Resume Speed’ referring to the road sign as one leaves the previous town.

ResumeSpeed2

My dad felt called to “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.” He loved the country churches in small west Texas towns, and he loved the down-and-out who sought refuge in the wilderness. My mother told me this weekend the first thing my father would do when moving to a new church was look for the derelicts and rejects of the town, the alcoholics and addicts. Cities have no monopoly on that.

When I pastored in Miami (Texas), I felt like we had moved to the city.  Previously, I pastored in Channing, a town of 250 people and half a million head of cattle. We drove 35 miles for groceries, but around 100 folks met weekly in the red-brick church to worship.  In Miami, however, there was one of everything: one gas station, one grocery store, one bank, one café, and one traffic light. There was one Baptist church, one Methodist, one Church of Christ, and one Christian church (Disciples of Christ). Our motto for the church was “streams in the desert,” denoting how God was working in our remote little town of less than a thousand people.

This past Easter, I went with my wife and mother to visit my sister and her family. I remember Pennye vowing she would never marry a preacher, much less one who served a country church.  I snickered when she said it because I know what happens when you say “never” to God.  Shortly after she married her school teacher husband, he felt called to ministry and enrolled in seminary.  On this Good Friday we packed the car and headed for Seagraves, Texas, where my brother-in-law pastors a healthy church in a dying west Texas town. He too serves God in the highways and hedges.

I still have a stirring every time I am on the road and pass little chapel in the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of no-where, God is now-here.

P.S. If you’re ever in west Texas, be sure to visit Big Spring, Loop, Circleback, Paint Rock, Muleshoe, Farwell, and Earth.

Published in: on March 30, 2016 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  

These Eight did Milcah Bear

Genesis 22:23
Daddy was a preacher, so was Uncle Glen, my mother’s brother. They worshiped the same God and fulfilled the same calling. My father had only one brother, and they weren’t especially close until my dad’s latter years. My uncle had only one brother, but he was born late in my grandparent’s life. In fact, he was only two years older than me and one year younger than my sister. At any rate, these shared life experiences led Daddy and Uncle Glen to be very close. They hunted together, fished together, camped out together, preached in each other’s pulpits, and told all the same preacher jokes. They also raised their children to fear God and behave in church.

Today, I read Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s test from God and whether he was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s command. Then I saw it. I had seen it before, but for some reason today, it stood out. That story is immediately followed by the account of Milcah bearing seven sons to Abraham’s brother, Nahor. I was immediately transported back to a childhood Sunday morning and Uncle Glen telling a preacher joke.

The new preacher in town went to witness to the old codger of the community. He asked the old man why he had never repented and turned to God. The old man responded that he just wasn’t sure the Bible was reliable. The pastor invited the old geezer to give even one example why the scripture wasn’t true. Without hesitating, the old fellow quoted Genesis 22:23, “’These eight did Milcah bear.’ Preacher, even with that many sons, I know they didn’t milk no bear!” (Insert laughter here.)

yogi_bear_cartoon_1

I enjoyed the old worn out jokes. I thought it was funny enough that the first two sons were named Huz and Buz. At one point, just for fun, I recited to myself “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” inserting the names of these guys instead of the eight reindeer. “Now, Huz! now, Buz! now, Kemuel and Chesed! On, Hazo! on Pildash! on, Jidlaph and Bethuel!” (Alright, maybe it loses a little something there at the end.) As the nostalgia waned, I let the passage soak in a bit. To be honest, there are some issues in this story.

First, God tells Abraham to take “your son, your only son.” In fact, that phrase is used three times (vs 2, 12, 16). When scripture repeats something three times in such a short space, there must be something significant. The reality of the matter is Isaac was not Abraham’s only son. There was Ishmael. (Flash forward.)

The second issue is more of a question than a problem. Why did the writer choose to insert the account of Abraham’s nephews at this particular point? This actually may help us interpret the earlier question. The writer recounts the sons born by Milcah to Nahor. Then there is a listing of the children born by Reumah, Nahor’s concubine, but they are not referred to as sons. This is parallel to Hagar birthing Ishmael, but he was not named as Abraham’s son. Only Isaac, the child of Abraham and Sarah, was Abraham’s son; “your son, your only son.” Some readers are already screaming, “That’s not fair! They were both Abraham’s sons.” Before you complain in Ishmael’s behalf, though, remember it was Isaac who ended up bound with a knife at his throat. In reality, however, we enlightened and compassionate citizens of the 21st century do that very thing. We use terms like “step-son” and “half-sister,” or my personal favorite, “brother from another mother.” For better or worse, we make the same kind of distinctions, and God knew we would. We can’t claim to take the moral high ground against the word of God. In fact, it is Scripture condescending to our level and terminology.

What about application? What does this mean for our daily lives? Is the Bible really telling us to love step-sons and half-sisters less? I don’t think so. I do think God is pointing out his original plan for the family unit to be comprised of one man and one woman mated for life. Malachi reminds us that he is seeking Godly offspring. In cases where that doesn’t happen – that’s at least half of all marriages – there are still quality and loving relationships to be had. Step, half, and adopted brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers are often just as loving and caring, and sometimes more-so.

As brothers, Abraham and Nahor had similar joys and challenges in their family situations. After all, they were both having children at an old age. That alone should command some respect. After my dad died, my uncle took on a sizable portion of helping to raise my brother and me, even with four kids of his own. At Uncle Glen’s funeral, I thanked my cousins for sharing their dad with me, and I meant it sincerely.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Bringing in the Sheaves

Psalm 126:6

Since my father was a pastor, I went to a lot of church growing up. Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night I sang the songs of the faithful and listened to my dad rightly divide the word of truth. However, as little children often do, I occasionally misunderstood the words to the hymns we sang.

I list here examples of titles and phrases of those original, hymns, followed by a four-year-old’s interpolation of my own and other PKs I’ve known:

We Will Understand it Better Bye and Bye

Original – “Temptations, hidden snares, often take us unawares.”
4 year old PK – “Temptations, hidden snares, often take our underwear.”

Victory in Jesus

Original – “He sought me and bought me with his redeeming blood.”
4 year old PK – “He socked me and boxed me with his big boxing gloves.”

Bringing in the Sheaves

Original – “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”

4 year old PK – “Bringing in the sheeps” or “Bringing in the sheets.”

Theologically, sheep made more sense, since the Bible talked a lot about God’s people as sheep. Experientially, since we never owned a clothes dryer, hanging the sheets on the line to dry, then bringing them in, also made sense. I hadn’t grown up on a farm the way my daddy did. He had always known what “sheaves” were.

sheaves

Of course, I eventually understood the agrarian allegory of sowing (planting) and reaping (harvesting) the grain, stacking it upright, then hauling each sheave (stack) to the storehouse for threshing later. As I write this, I understand that many readers still have no idea what any of those things are. Most modern readers will be uninformed, so I edited the paragraph with synonyms. Please accept my apology if it made for more cumbersome reading. I digress.

Planting and harvesting is a recurring theme in scripture. Jesus used the idea more than once to illustrate different principles of the Kingdom of Heaven. You harvest what you plant. You harvest more than you plant. You harvest in a different season than you plant. You can expect weeds to sprout up.

Here in the Old Testament, the psalmist paints a picture not of “The Contented Farmer,” (see the lyrics by G. Bickham, 1737) but one who is crying profusely as he plants the precious seed. Perhaps this points to the seed being the last of what was stored. Maybe this planting was at the end of a series of bad years, and his family will starve if this crop doesn’t make. The psalmist reminds the farmer, “They that sow in tears will reap in joy.” Like a little kid singing hymns, at times the words don’t seem to match up with our experience, but the promise holds.

Published in: on March 1, 2016 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Magic Markers and Red Beets

Ecclesiastes 3:11; Matthew 26:13

Growing up in the parsonage, we realized that other pastor’s families had lived in that house before us, and other pastor’s families would live there after us. In that generation, we moved about every two to three years.We just couldn’t bear the thought of Mrs. Bridlesnort trying to remember whether Bro. Wellborn had two kids or three, and were they boys or girls. What would set us apart in the minds and hearts of all the other P.K.s (Preacher’s Kids) who inhabited the humble domicile? Anonymity was not an option. We must leave our mark for years to come, and what better way to leave your mark than Marks-a-lot!

One Tuesday night while the Women’s Missionary Union was meeting in the living room, my sister, my brother, and I were in the bedroom decorating the walls with Marks-a-lot. We drew and drew to our hearts’ content.  Actually, I was the painting pioneer of the bunch. A year earlier, I had joined in with the Methodist preacher’s son in decorating the whitewashed exterior of the elementary school with Tempra-paint. We carefully included portraits of Charlie Brown, Batman, Spiderman, and a couple of original works. The discipline that followed left me undaunted in my quest for immortality. There we were, in the bedroom, marks-a-lotting true Renoir-brandt-caso works. For future reference, Marks-a-lot products are longer lasting than Sherwin-Williams.

My siblings and I chose a poor means to build a heritage. In fact, most people choose poorly in that regard. Some dedicate all their efforts to maintaining their status in the current headlines and evening news. That is short-lived and gets more and more burdensome as the novelty wears off. Coming up with the newest outrage can be a challenge. Some contribute massive sums of money to have their name emblazoned on the exterior of a building or stadium that will be demolished only a few decades later. Some establish charitable trusts and foundations, which fare moderately better. One person, however, chose a momentary humble act of love that has built a legacy, now over 2,000 years old.
Shortly before Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, he was having supper at with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at the home of Simon the leper. In a single brief act of extreme affection, passion, and devotion, Mary brought some very expensive perfumed ointment and poured it on Jesus’ head. Judas complained about the waste (as church treasurers often do). Jesus pointed out that this was in place of the burial anointing which he would not otherwise receive.

colbert

Claudette Colbert, Brigitte Bardot, and Greta Garbo were stars, no, superstars! Now that you’ve Googled their names (you know you did), go challenge any college or high school student to recognize the names or why they were famous. Even the most famous names of our day will soon enough be forgotten.

I have a very eclectic taste in music. Basically, I like it all (country and rap in small doses only), but I once heard a statement about the difference between classical and pop music. Classical music was the popular music of its day. If a song is still being performed after five or six years, it’s popular. If a song is still being played after 300 years, it’s classical. Music, literature, art, movies all have their stars, and they will one day be only faintly remembered in old people’s conversations.

The teacher of Ecclesiastes brings to our attention that something in human nature wants to leave a legacy which endures beyond our own times. In fact, he says, that it is God who put that desire in our hearts. The well-known passage about God’s sovereignty over time and timing was made popular to a whole new generation in 1965 by The Byrds.
“To everything – turn, turn, turn, There is a season – turn, turn, turn – And a time to every purpose under heaven.”

The teacher asks, if time keeps marching on and there’s nothing new under the sun, what profit is there in our work? God has put eternity in the heart of humanity. What part of our work will outlast our mortality?

The only acts that leave a truly lasting heritage and memorial are the things we do out of passion for Christ. Those things live forever because he lives forever. He will make sure, as he did with Mary, that we are properly recognized. The other gospels tell the story, but only John mentions her name. The act, however is mentioned “wherever the gospel is preached.” That’s quite an endorsement.

I almost forgot. We did leave our tribute in the little house at 505 S.W. 10th Street. My sister and I had the daily chore of supper dishes. She washed, I dried. One night, we realized we could put leftover bits of food in the middle of a dishrag, jerk the ends tight, and it would flip the food up in the air. We didn’t normally leave much food, but there was a particular vegetable we all hated, well, all of us kids anyway.

The dish-washing was boring, so we carefully placed slices of the dreaded dish in the middle of the dishrag, jerked the ends tight, and watched them flip in the air. It stuck to the ceiling! At that point, the contest was on. Who could stick their slice and make it stay the longest? I lost. Two of my slices bounced off the ceiling and ricocheted into the light fixture. “Did you see that?” I whispered. We thought it best to let our parents do their own discovery. (If you’re gonna hang me, don’t ask me for the rope.) We forgot the incident soon enough, and in a year we moved to a new congregation. Somehow, there is a sense of self-fulfillment knowing that one day someone in the kitchen looked up and saw (pause for effect) red beets.

Published in: on February 22, 2016 at 10:17 am  Comments (1)  

I Hope You Dance

Psalm 149:3; Psalm 150:4

My parents met and married at Hardin-Simmons Baptist College in Abilene, Texas. There were two other private, faith based colleges also in Abilene: Abilene Christian College (Church of Christ) and McMurray Methodist College.  Everyone knows Baptists don’t dance. Well, a lot of Baptists, in fact, do. In the last century the traditional position was that dancing could lead to real problems, like un-holy music and lust.  The mantra was “We don’t dance, drink, smoke, or chew, and we don’t go with girls who do!” So, we had no girlfriends. My mother told me the Methodists would all go to a dance, then go “out to the sticks,” meaning they would drive out in the country and enjoy some physical affection. She further stated since the Baptists couldn’t dance, they just skipped the dance and “went straight out to the sticks.” My father said, “A dance is the only setting where the vilest of men can embrace the purest of women and it’s socially acceptable.”

My older sister, with mild parental protest, went to the high school dances. She also taught me to dance, or tried. Actually, she said, “You dance like a frog in a blender!” I can’t help it. When the music starts groovin’ and my feet start movin’ the spirit takes me over. In the end, it always seems to result in a strange mix of the jitterbug and The Curly Shuffle.  Somehow I’m semi-conscious of people laughing and pointing and cameras flashing. In high school, one of the drill team captains invited me to join her in a dance contest.  We actually won second place! That netted me a nice $5.00 gift certificate to the local drive in. She opted to let me have it, rather than accompany me to spend it.  My children waffle back-and-forth between embarrassment and wild laughter when I dance around the house.  My wife laughs until the tears flow.

curly-o

There’s something else about Baptists you should know. We also pride ourselves on being “a people of the book.” That means the Bible is the ultimate guide for any situation of life. It seemed a bit contradictory to me that the Word of God clearly instructs his people to dance, but deacons forbid it.  Just before I graduated college, I was interviewing for a position as a Youth Minister at a local First Baptist Church. Early on in the interview, I was asked “What do you think about dancing?” I’m not sure why, but I simply replied, “Well, David danced naked before the Lord.”  The interview seemed to abruptly end, and I never heard from that church again.

Here’s the position I’ve come to after a half-century of life. Little children instinctively dance. It’s good exercise to dance. God said dancing was an appropriate form of praise. The next time the music moves you, let it.  I think I agree with the lyrics sung by Lee Ann Womack:

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance… I hope you dance.

 

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Faith, Family, and Football

I Corinthians 9:24

I love football. I mean, I really really love football.  Some of my earliest memories of television were watching God’s team in Super Bowl V, with my father jumping up and down, hooping and hollering like a 10 year old when the obviously crooked referees missed the call on a tipped pass from Craig Morton. It was the only Super Bowl when the MVP, Chuck Howley, was named from the losing team. My dad was passionate about the Dallas Cowboys, and so was I. The Cowboys and I were born in the same year.  As a footnote, I would add that my dad was passionate about everything he did, not just football.  From the pulpit, he would bemoan the fact Christians would act like wild Indians at a football game but act like wooden Indians at church.

Landry

Last night I shared the couch with my oldest daughter, also an avid football fan, as we watched Peyton Manning beat the odds to win Super Bowl 50.  He was the oldest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. It was his fourth Super Bowl game, his second Super Bowl win, and his 200th win overall. The old man didn’t play great, but he managed the game against the league MVP, Cam Newton. The “Sheriff” came out on top over the self-proclaimed “Superman.”  It was like Samson’s final victory over the Philistines.

Football, faith, and family are all intertwined for me, woven into the fabric of my life. I remember one dear saint, Miss Ellen, who always sat on the very back pew. She was one of the faithful stalwarts of the church. On my first Sunday as the new pastor, she warned me. “I sit at the back, so in case the sermon goes long, I can slip out and still catch the kickoff.” Miss Ellen was well over 90 years old, and she lived just across the street from the church. She made good on her promise.

The congregation I had just moved from had a matron saint of a different kind. She reprimanded me one day for over-mentioning football.  She wrote me an “anonymous” letter from “A Concerned Church Member.” (Everyone knew who sent it.) It read something to the effect, “We should be able to come to church and not hear anything about football or politics.” The next Sunday at the end of the service, I apologized to the congregation for being guilty of both, and I promised to “never use the F-word in church again.” That sparked some fun conversations.

I honestly had no qualms about using football or any other sport as sermon illustrations. If Paul could refer to “running the race” and “winning the prize” and “bodily exercise” to drive home a theological point, I saw no reason I couldn’t do the same.  Football is a part of who I am.  I wasn’t very good at it, but I was passionate about it.  I am sandwiched between my father, who played center, and my son, who achieved All-District honors playing center. I honestly don’t think God minds too much to share part of his day while fathers and families share quality time on the couch.

P.S. On the couch with my son was the only time I cried over football. He had just finished his final game, played in Cowboys Stadium.  His team had lost the regional playoff, but that’s not why I cried. He was undersized for a center (185 lbs.), but he played every down across from kids twice his size. Through sheer determination and smart play, he dominated 300 pound defensive linemen. Dads, make some time on Sundays after church to enjoy some time on the couch with your family.

Published in: on February 8, 2016 at 10:42 am  Comments (2)  

Ruby Ring

Luke 15:22

January is the month of my only son’s birthday. His childhood and teen years were nothing short of a joy to me and my wife, and he is now a very talented worship leader in a large and growing Dallas congregation.

I have previously mentioned that my father was a preacher, but he died when I was only 12 years old. My older sister was 16, and my younger brother had just turned 11. After a brief but fierce battle with lung cancer, he died four days past his 41st birthday. As a result, I vowed to heavily invest in my children for whatever time I had with them, and God has seen fit to let me see them grow up.

When my son was three years old, I wrote a song about the symbol of our male bonding and the connection I felt between him and my father.

When I was a little boy on my Daddy’s knee,he would bounce me up and down; he would tickle me. He would whistle tunes and he would sing; I could ask my daddy anything, and I loved to ask about his ruby ring.

He told me, “Son this was my daddy’s ring, it’s all he left to me. He was young when he died; I was just eighteen. One day you will wear this ring; it’s all I have to give. Then you’ll know that I loved you as long as I lived.”

ruby ring

The ring was a simple gold band with a single ruby stone that my grandfather wore daily. He was buried on my father’s 18th birthday, and the rest of the family said my dad should have it, since he was now a man. When I was growing up, my father always told me I would get the ring on my 18th birthday as a sign of manhood. After he died, my mother kept it safe until then. When I turned 18, I was given the ring. My plan was to continue the tradition of marking when the son becomes a man.

I remember one day, a couple of years after my father died, I was grieving particularly painfully. I clearly – not audibly, but clearly heard God say, “I am your father now.” It wasn’t eerie, like Darth Vader telling the ugly truth to Luke Skywalker. It was a relief and a comfort. God was personally stepping in where my father could not, not only teaching me to be a man, but teaching me to be a father. I had acted as a prodigal, but he loved me and accepted me.

At his birth, I gave my son my father’s name – my name. On his 18th birthday, I gave him my father’s ring. The thing I added to the tradition was a speech. The ring symbolized his heritage as a man of God and a minister of God. Though my son was far from prodigal, I wanted to instill a sense of unconditional love and the rights and responsibilities that accompany our relationship as fathers and sons.

Just as the father in Jesus’ parable affirmed total love for his son, he also bestowed full authority by placing a signet ring on his son’s finger. In spite of the times we have squandered our inheritance, the father loves and restores us, accepting us as his children and restoring to us full authority to act in his name.

Published in: on February 1, 2016 at 8:54 am  Comments (2)  

He Flies through the Air with the Greatest of Ease

Isaiah 40:31

“They shall mount up with wings…”

Many people report having dreams of flying. It’s not uncommon at all. I never dreamed of flying though, well…not exactly.  I have dreams of swimming in air. In my dreams, if I move my arms and legs in exactly the same motion as swimming, I can swim up, down, sideways, anywhere I want. Have fun with that one, Dr. Freud. I guess one of the reasons I never dreamed of being able to fly is, I can really fly, for a little while anyway.

In Balmorhea, Texas, the parsonage backyard opens up into the school front yard. Just beyond that is the football field. At five years old, I learned to follow my older sister to the football field, pull the foam rubber high jump mats out of their storage shed, and place them in back of the bleachers.  My siblings and I, along with the Methodist preacher’s kids, would spend hours jumping from the top of the bleachers onto the mats. We performed somersaults, flip-flops, and plain old belly-flops.

When I was nine, my father came home with an awesome surprise. He had obtained from his uncle or cousin or some other such relative two, two, fighter pilot helmets, one white with a lightening bolt, and one red with a white stripe.  It took no more than an hour for my brother and I to put them to use.  We dug to the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper, pulled out the dirty sheets, and hit the back door. There was an exterior plumbing vent pipe which allowed us to climb up onto the garage roof. From there, we instantly became parachuting Army Ranger heroes. It actually worked! Well, it worked until mom saw us with the sheets. Fortunately for us, there was a large cedar tree just on the side of the garage. Now we were sky-diving, sans parachute, into the shrub, even more fun. Flying taught me to be fearless.

Peterpanflying

“They shall run and not be weary…”

In Hartley High School (225 students, K-12), everyone played every sport. Basketball, track, and tennis were the sum total of the athletics program. I was a little stocky, so I was easily enough assigned the shot and discus. We were one competitor short for the mile run, though, so my coach decided he would toss me in there.  I was stunned. Everyone was stunned. The milers consisted of the tall lanky transfer student from Iowa, the bone-thin 100 pound Jim Bob, and me.  Our coach’s training method consisted of driving us several miles out of town, dropping us off, and saying, “See you at the end of practice.” Although my best time was barely under six minutes, I learned to pace myself and push myself, and I learned to work past “the wall” and get my second wind.

runner

“They shall walk and not faint.”

When I was in college, I was broke, flat broke, dead broke, poor-as-a-church-mouse broke. That’s because I was a church mouse. There was one source of joy, though. I met a redhead who seemed to show interest in me. I couldn’t afford to take her on dates or buy her flowers, but she would walk around campus with me, and she would walk to the park with me. Walking is a practice we got into that we continue today. For over 30 years we’ve been walking through scenery of mountains, beaches, deserts, and forests, wherever we happen to be.

When I read this well-known passage from Isaiah, I see in it the stages of life. As youngsters, we spread our wings and fly fearlessly anywhere and everywhere. As adults, we settle into the rat-race and run our children to football games, music concerts, graduations, and hopefully church. At some point, we hit the empty nest and slow down a bit.  That’s where my lovely redhead and I find ourselves these days, walking. Our son is flying, one daughter is running, and one is coming back to earth for a landing. I’m enjoying the slower pace. Things seem as they should be.

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Published in: on January 25, 2016 at 10:56 am  Comments (2)