Wednesday, September 26, 2007

God Put A Smile Upon My Face

(With apologies to Coldplay....)

I couldn't help but smile this morning as I walked onto the school grounds and saw some 20 kids standing around the flagpole, holding hands, praying.

Minutes later, I was walking out of the office, towards my classroom. Many students were in groups, talking and yelling as they normally do. The language that teenagers use, loudly, in public, would make my mother faint. I remember when kids were afraid of getting caught using foul language. Now it's the order of the day and they would laugh in my face if I told them to stop. It's not a battle that administration wants to fight, because they can't win it. It's sad, and it erased my smile.


6-year-olds get very fixated. To wit, this morning's parting conversation:

Me: Bye, bud. Have a great day.

James: I'm going to have 2 corn dogs for lunch today!

Me: Be a good boy, okay?

James: I'm going to have 2 corn dogs!

Me: Sounds great. I love you, dude.

James: With ketchup!


It's looking like the 2 best teams in baseball are going to square off in a 5-game series to open the playoffs. This still bugs me. I admit the need for the extra round of games, the Wild Card makes it necessary, and I happen to like the Wild Card. But it doesn't seem fair when the fate of the two best teams is decided by a best-3-out-of-5.

I'm also not crazy about having to start the postseason in Fenway. Remember the leprechauns on the rims in the Boston Garden during the 80's? They've moved to the Green Monster.


Dallas Willard continues to rock my world.

"If people in our Christian fellowships today were to announce that they had decided to keep God's law, we would probably be skeptical and alarmed. We probably would take them aside for counseling and possibly alert other responsible people in the group to keep an eye on them. We would be sure nothing good would come of it. We know that one is not saved by keeping the law and can think of no other reason why one should do it.

This leaves us caught in a strange inversion of the work of the Judaizing teachers who dogged the footsteps of Paul in New Testament days. As they wanted to add obedience to the ritual law to faith in Christ, we want to subtract moral law from faith in Christ. How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church as it enters the twenty-first century."

Monday, September 24, 2007


Today marks the beginning of the final week in my 40 days of prayer. I have been asking God how He wants to use me in His church. I will continue to seek His will this week, but I will be doing far more listening than talking.

Quietly listening comes hard to most of us; it's not easy for me either. It's something we have to learn. Many of us, intentionally or not, surround ourselves with noise, drowning out our Master's voice. Yesterday in class, Aaron played a video on the subject for us. Partway through, the screen went to black and there was a long period of (uncomfortable) silence before words began appearing. When asked later how we felt about this, one class member said she was okay once there was something to read, but the dark screen and silent classroom made her very uneasy. Most people nodded in agreement.

When Satan invented the iPod, he knew how easy it would make it for us to be plugged in, distracted, all day long. The DVR and cell phone come from the same bag of tricks. But I have spent 33 days asking God the same question. His answers have already come, in a variety of ways. But I find that they change and grow each day. Some answers I thought I knew have been turned completely around.

Now it's time to simply be quiet and listen. If I pray for clarity, then I must trust that He will give it to me, that by Sunday I will know the direction in which to start travelling. And if I ask Him a question, it's only right that I should pay attention to the answer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No Thanks Redux

In the spirit of an earlier post, I have one more pitcher to add to my "No Thanks" list.

This is Grant.
He pitches for the Devil Rays.
Grant's last name? Balfour. Yes, Balfour!
No thanks, Grant. Now if you have any cousins from the Strikthree tribe, let me know.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Countdown to Sunday

Today is Day #27 in my 40 days of prayer. God has blessed me so much during this time and shown me so many possible paths. I'm excited and not a little apprehensive about what He has in mind. If nothing else, I already know that He has more possibilities in mind than my little brain could ever imagine.

On Day #6, my neighbor, Chris, came over with gifts for Lisa and I. He gave Lisa a beautiful pillowcase that they had purchased in Spain on a recent visit. To me, he presented a book. This worried me as my stack was already so large, I didn't know when I would fit a new read in. And then he pointed out that his name was on the cover. This worried me even more. I'm notoriously awful at faking that I like something. If I hated his book, I was pretty sure I could never talk to Chris again. I don't think I could get away with, "Yeah, boy, that quote you used in Chapter 5 was really good."

Nevertheless, the book vaulted to the top of my stack and I began reading it immediately.

It is just over 200 pages long, but it took me a couple of weeks to read. That's because it was so good, so useful, so brimming with good ideas and information that I really took my time with it. In fact, Chris's book is one of the most useful I have ever read.

Those who know me know that I struggle with preaching. I love teaching and I think I'm pretty good at it. But teaching and preaching are different things. Chris's book very much made me want to be a preacher, not necessarily a full-time one (not necessarily), but a preacher nonetheless.

The book is called "Countdown to Sunday" and it is a collection of writings on preaching that Chris has done over the past couple of years. He gives his daily approach to assembling a sermon, his thoughts on things that 21st century preachers face, and most importantly, his view on what preaching truly is. Chris's goal is to make his congregation a group of preachers, to teach them how to handle the text, how to make it their own, how to present it, how to embody to live it. His goal is to send his church into the world as preachers of the Word.

Good goal, eh?

I can't wait to try the method outlined in the book for "hosting the text," as Chris puts it. Or more brutally, to be the kind of preacher that is willing to "open a vein and bleed" it. Chris is a wonderful writer but, more importantly, he's a great thinker. He has in intense love for the Word and an overwhelming desire to see it transform lives. I want to get his book into the hands of as many preachers as I possibly can.

It was a unique experience having the author's voice in my ear as I read his book. Chris and I have talked a bit about preaching, but it was the other stuff I personally enjoyed the most. When he wrote about his family, his love of U2, his personal foibles and gave me special pleasure to hear his voice in my head.

And, no, I don't think it's a coincidence that he gave me a copy less than a week into a period of my life when I am intensely asking for God's guidance. I haven't had a chance to share any of this with Chris yet, but I can't wait to sit with him and talk about his passion for preaching and how timely his gift was.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prophet and Loss

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." "Ah, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. (Jeremiah 1: 4-9)

We don't see many prophets these days. That's not to say that they aren't among us, nor even that God hasn't sent them, put His words in their mouths.

No, we just don't see them. And we certainly don't listen to them.

It's a daunting task to be a prophet in such an enlightened era. What need do we have of them? The Bible tells us everything we need to know and if there are gaps or questions, we have commentaries! We have the internet! We have...well...we have ourselves, don't we?

John York came to our church recently and told us a few things that some people didn't want to hear. He was right, of course, and was speaking neither more nor less than what had been commanded of him to speak. He wasn't wearing rags and he wasn't eating bugs, but there was no question that he was a prophet.

I wonder how many prophets are trying to tell us something that we steadfastly ignore. And I wonder how many of us, like Jonah, are daily boarding ships that are heading in the wrong direction. We all can speak. None of us need to be afraid. God Himself touches our lips.

Monday, September 10, 2007

John Banks

Yesterday, I found out that John Banks had died.

My earliest memories of "church" were the worship services at the College Church of Christ in the late '60's. When you're only five or six, you don't really know what's going on at church. There is singing and praying, somebody gets up and talks for a very long time, occasionally you get to lay on Mom's lap and snooze or just stare up at the far-off, vaulted ceiling. Then, it's off to class where you would hear stories that sounded like fairy tales and, in my day, watch little paper people move about on flannel boards.

Weird stuff.

I always liked the singing. Mansel Willet and Lee Smith would lead us and I always hoped they would tell us to turn our song books to #13 because I liked "Anywhere With Jesus." Still do.

(A few Sundays ago, the computer wasn't working and Lee directed us to the songs in our songbooks. It was very old school and very cool. I was disappointed that #13 wasn't on the morning menu. I still love to watch and sing with Lee.)

But, for some reason, even at an age when I didn't understand hardly anything he was saying, I loved the preacher. He was funny...I knew this because he made people laugh. He was smart...I knew this because I heard people say so. And he was kind...I knew this because he was so with me.

My mom reminded me yesterday that John would always...always...stop me at the outer doors of the auditorium after services and encourage me to keep studying the Word. I was an early reader, mostly because my sister was two years older and I sat on the couch with her and Mom as they worked through her readers. I was making words out pretty well when I was 4, and actually comprehending quite a bit at 5 and 6. I'm sure John knew this and it was he who truly started me on the road to reading and thinking about what the Bible said. My parents, especially my Dad, fostered this in me, but John Banks started it.

And his wife, Bernice. Ohhhhhh, Bernice. Okay, I kinda loved her when I was a kid. I know she loved me too, but I mean I loved her as in, as the kids would say, "looooooooved her." She was an early teacher of mine and I will never forget her hugs.

John and Bernice Banks helped get the College Church off the ground. John gave me my first insight into what a preacher is and the mental definition is as true to me today as it was when I was six. He was a student and a speaker of the Word of God. He was a leader and an inspiration to all ages. He was a good, good man. I'm so glad he's home. I can't wait to see him.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Angels in the Postseason

I've been an Angels fan since the early 80's. I came on board with Lynn, DeCinces, and Grich. I was there for WallyWorld. I suffered through the days when rookies like Dante Bichette were regularly traded for washed-up veterans like Dave Parker. I rooted every year, but seldom had much hope that my boys of summer would be my boys of autumn.

But, to quote a different Don Henley song, everything is different now.

These days I expect the Angels to play into October. The farm system is consistently good. The commitment to signing quality free agents is constant. There is a drive to win that never goes away, from Scioscia and his team, through the pitching staff and starting lineup, all the way to the #25 utility guy. There is an Angels style of baseball and its fun to watch.

I spoke up earlier this season and almost single-handedly pushed the team out of first place. So I'm more cautious now. But with a 7 1/2 game lead and only a few weeks to play, I daresay I think they're going to make it. And it looks like they will play the first postseason series against the Cleveland Indians. So the 4-game series we start tonight against the Tribe will be telling. A series win would give us (I always say "us" when referring to the Angels, as though I'm going to be suiting up anytime soon) a lot of confidence.

Let's go, Angels! (Clap clap clap-clap-clap!)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

James at 6

Here are some things that 6-year old boys do.

Grab their daddy from behind and walk with him from room to room, arms in a vice-grip around his waist, hanging on until daddy does the old "turn around and sit on you" trick.

Make obnoxious noises in hundreds of new and exciting ways.

Talk endlessly without ever really saying anything. "Y'know what? And y'know what else?"

Look incredibly cute in their chonies.

Make thoughts of cruel and inhuman punishment a daily event as they stomp, slam, scream, and look at their parents with squinty eyes and furrowed brows and tight lips as they say, "No!"

Draw stick figures with three legs and three eyes that somehow seem better than Van Gogh when they are drawn just for you and delivered with a toothless smile.

Occasionally assume a pose or give you a look that allows you to see the young man they will become. This is always followed with bouts of weeping.

Often make messes while simply standing in place that allow you to see the gangly, pinwheeling kid they still are. This is always followed with bouts of weeping.

Say funny things like "You scared me to Bethlehem!"

Make you wonder how God could possibly love us any more than we love them.

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