Archive for the ‘Christian Culture’ Category

babe ruthBases loaded! One run down! Bottom of the ninth! Two outs! And you, the team captain come up to bat! Best player!  Most dependable! Cheerleader for the whole team!

And you strike out on three pitches!

I’ve read that one of the most difficult things for great baseball players to accept as they move from being a high school or college superstar to playing professionally is the inevitable and frequent disappointments—even failure—that is part of the game.

Hall of Fame players only get hits 30% of the time!  That means 7 out of 10 times that they bat, they make an out!

The big sluggers, the home-run kings, strike out more than anyone else, and only hit a home run about 1 out of 15 times at bat.

What do you do as a church/ministry leader when you “strike out?”  What do you do when you make a bad financial decision, the wrong hire, a damaging strategic decision?  What do you do when you and everyone in the whole stadium know that you just struck out on three pitches?

  • Some players blame the umpire, the fans, their wife, the team spirit—everybody but themselves.
  • Some players just throw the bat and slam their helmet down in rage. That helps everybody on the team feel better!
  • Some players give up on themselves; they quit.
  • Some players play cavalier—just pretend like it didn’t make any difference!

If these are not productive ways to respond when you strike out, what might we do:

  • Admit that you struck out!  Don’t try to pretend that you didn’t.
  • Don’t blame other people! Even if the pitcher is GREAT, he’s not striking everyone out, so somebody is hitting him!  The umpire is not calling everyone out on strikes.
  • Seek to understand the reason you struck out. Did you guess incorrectly? Were you too aggressive, too impatient, too unfocused? Did you irritate the umpire?
  • When you think you might know why, you might think about whether this is an area that you can improve upon with training, with practice, with coaching, with self-control—and then do what you need to do!
  • If you can’t figure out what you did wrong, then ask other people to tell you—and listen to them.
  • Get back up to bat as soon as you can.  Fear of failure is really bad! Once that gets into your head and takes over, it is increasingly difficult to succeed again.

In church leadership and ministry, even the best leaders are going to make dramatic errors. I’m not talking about moral choices or integrity issues, I’m just talking about bad decisions.  These decisions affect people’s jobs, people’s lives, and sometimes even people’s faith because so much of what people believe is wrapped up in the leaders they follow.

That is why it is so painful, just gut-wrenching when you make big, wrong decisions.

The Bible is full of great men who made terrible decisions:

  • Abram passes Sara off as his sister to Pharaoh
  • Jacob steals the birthright from Esau
  • Joseph can’t keep his dreams to himself
  • Moses kills the Egyptian in rage. Later he gets so frustrated with his people that he overstates his own role in satisfying their needs and offends God.
  • Samson, Jephthah, Eli—the judges God chose made big mistakes.
  • King Saul, even David, and especially Solomon

Haven’t you wondered as I have about the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, that is, how some of them made the list?  All of these were leaders—but all of them only got hits 3 out of 10 at-bats!!

After that list of great heroes in Hebrews 11, the writer says thatout of weakness [they]were made strong “ (v.34).

You will strike out!  Maybe a lot!  But if you can acknowledge your weakness and respond to it in a godly way, He can still make you a Hall of Fame player!

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rocking chairIf your church is putting the Boomers out to pasture, you are making a big mistake!

Yes, I am one of the oldest Boomers, and I’d like at least to speak out for almost forty million Boomers born in the first half of the Boomer years (1946-1955), and what I say is probably true for the other 40 million born in the last half of the Boomer cycle (1956-1964).  Almost eighty million Boomers!

Here’s how you will know if your church is putting Boomers out to pasture:

  • You move your preaching minister out at age 59 for someone younger to attract a younger demographic.
  • You decide to disregard the preferred worship styles of everyone over 50.
  • No one over 50 teaches anyone younger than 50 in your educational program.
  • Your “senior” ministry is mostly eating and social activities, carrying for the sick and home-bound, and singing “foot-stomping” gospel songs.

 One out of every four persons in the United States is a Boomer!  And the percentage in your church is probably much higher because the Boomers, though some wandered off momentarily during the 60s,  returned to their churches shortly thereafter and have been faithful, though less traditional than their parents ever since.  Can you really afford to dismiss one out four people in the general population?

Another reason not to dismiss the Boomers is because they aren’t going to quit working! Sixty-seven percent say they are either delaying retirement or will never retire!  Every church longs for more involvement and investment of time by its members. Who has more time?  The younger dads and moms with three kids under 12, trying to grow their career and their family?  The parents of teenagers, trying to both work while running between school activities and ball games?  Or the empty-nester Boomers?

Here’s another reason not to ignore your Boomers:  “The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday” (Pew Research Center 2011).   Another source cited, “Baby boomers control over 80% of personal financial assets and more than half of all consumer spending.”

So let’s talk about who gives!  And let’s talk about who will continue to give over the next 10-20 years!  According to the Convio study (2010), the average Boomer contributes $901 per year, whereas a Gen Xer gives $796, and a Gen Yer  $341 per year.  Even though the individual difference between the Boomer and GenXer is not amazingly large, when you multiply that difference by the difference in group numbers, it makes a big difference! The annual total for Boomers is 47.1 billion compared to $28.68 billion for GenXers.

What I’m saying is that if you are already dismissing the Boomers, putting them out to pasture, then you are ignoring or retiring the most numerous and the most charitable people in your church, and those who have the most disposable time!

These are likely people who invented the word anti-establishment but who are probably still loyal to their tribe!  Also, while being very sympathetic and eager to support the social justice causes about which their children care so deeply, the Boomers are still evangelistic and understand the need to carry the Gospel in word as well as deed.

Every generation has to pass the torch of leadership.  Boomers will continue to be available for service, for leadership, and for active, meaningful participation in their church for twenty more years—and that’s a good thing!

Younger church leaders would do well to capitalize on this demographic in their churches, not caricature it!   

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distinctionCreate Distinction by Scott McKain was recommended to me by our son Ben, who has a real knack for business.  In our family, lots of books circulate. I love it that our grown kids still search our bookshelves—because I do the same when I go to their houses!

I don’t read very many business books because that’s not the world I live in, but I do find that when one comes highly recommended, it often has salient information for . . . life as a Christian and especially life as a church leader.  Create Distinction really spoke to some of my own questions!

McKain’s basic premise is that being “great” (as in Good to Great by Jim Collins) is not really what makes your business grow; rather you must differentiate yourself, but then take differentiation to the level of distinction!

I’ve talked in earlier posts about some of my concerns in the church world that differentiation has become a bad word synonymous with sectarian. Our current cultural worship of tolerance has its good side, but it also has a gene that tends toward mediocrity, the worship of that which doesn’t rise above anybody or anything else, of that which does not claim to be true or holy, especially in the sense of set apart. The result in the American church world is lots of lots of churches and fewer and fewer Christians.

McKain offers three differentiation destroyers.  Let’s try these on in church clothes instead of business suits and see if any of them fit.

Differentiation Destroyer #1: Copycat Competition and Incremental Advancement

As happens in the business world, if we see a church growing when we are not, one of our first responses  is to look for ways to copy the successful church.  If they play rock praise songs on a smoke-filled stage, we think we need to do the same. If they don’t have Sunday school, then we do the same.  If their preacher wears jeans and flipflops, then we want our preacher to also.

McKain would say that when we copy other churches, we are focusing on those other churches rather than on the people that we are trying to speak Jesus to. We are exchanging the goal of speaking Jesus into the hearts of people for the goal of growing as big as that other church!  Pretty subtle temptation, isn’t it!

And even scarier, apparently in the business world, when “customers” can’t tell the difference between businesses, they buy less from all of them.  This translates into “all churches are pretty much alike—and none of them really offers me something that I’m really looking for” in the Christian world.

Differentiation Destroyer #2: Change That Creates Tougher Competition

McKain’s main example was that the development of the Interstate system created a new world of opportunity for something different—fast food, cheaper and predictable—and put lots of local retailers out of business because they tried, but could not compete with McDonalds.  They did not differentiate themselves enough to make their customers want to slow down and pay more for their “better” hamburgers. Having a better product was not good enough to keep them in business.

Don’t lots of our churches depend on the fact that they have a better “product” (the Truth) to attract people!  Either that or they try to become McDonalds—you’ve heard of the “honk and pray” churches. Both are losing strategies for growth.  McKain argues for differentiation and distinction instead.

Differentiation Destroyer #3: Familiarity Breeds Complacency

“When we have become familiar with something, and it is boundlessly available, we do not scorn it, hate it, or hold it in contempt. Instead, we take it for granted” (33)

How many of our members take church for granted? It’s comfortable, predictable, and there every Sunday morning.  Isn’t this a good thing?  You won’t lose anyone this way—except anyone who is not already there!  And those who are looking for a passionate commitment! And those who don’t want to be taken for granted themselves.

Familiar churches are probably not growing churches.  Where does that thought lead you?

Perhaps this very brief suggestion of what the book contains will lead you to read Create Distinction.  McKain does go on to talk about how to differentiate and become distinct. And it’s not by trying to be like everyone else!

We’ll look at some of those ideas later.



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I love lucyIn May 1953, I was finishing first grade at Springdale Elementary School in Fort Worth.  Much is different today than it was then:

  • Our class memorized the 23rd Psalm to recite over the school’s intercom system during morning announcements.
  • We used big red No.1 pencils
  • We shared desks
  • We bought war stamps and put them in savings books. (The Korean War did not end until June 27, 1953)
  • We had bomb drills (in case of atom bombs) both marching outside of our building in nice, straight lines and getting under our desks (crowded with two people sharing a desk!)
  • We feared polio and ending up in an iron lung, which dictated much of what we were allowed to do in the summer months.

My dad worked with televisions, so we always had at least one.  We watched Dwight Eisenhower being sworn in as president in 1953, the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy (71% of all TV owners watched this episode), and we watched Hit Parade’s version of How Much Is That Doggie In the Window, sung by Patti Page, which was the Number 1 pop song in 1953.

And to think that we could see all of that on just three channels—channels that went off the air sometime around midnight.

The average annual wage in 1953 was $3750, which is probably about what my dad made to support our five-member family. Our house was a little smaller than average, so it cost only about $9,000..  The average new car cost $1800. I do remember “gas wars” and prices of 13-15 cents per gallon.

We always ate at home—no such thing really as fast food. McDonalds was just starting in Florida. Dairy Queens were around, but they were mostly just for ice cream and milk shakes. When the milk shakes went to 35 cents, we had to stop buying them because they were too expensive.

So. . . . , that’s nice! Eisenhower

Here’s where we are today

  • No prayer in schools
  • Ipads in schools instead of Big Red pencils
  • Hundreds of 24/7 hr. TV channels (some still showing I Love Lucy!)
  • Teens spend more time now on the Internet than watching TV.
  • Average house sells for $330,000
  • Average car sells for $30,700 with gas at $3.89/gallon.
  • Polio is virtually eradicated
  • Sex is risk free with contraception. Even AIDS seems to have lost its scariness!

Life has changed a lot!

Here’s my point:  Who in 1953 was thinking that in 2013 our world would be as different as it is today? 

Who was thinking that in just 60 years,

  • both parents would have to work,
  • that a fast-growing percentage of homes would have only one parent,
  •  that same-sex marriage would be the issue of the day,
  • that Christians would be marginalized culturally,
  • that a drug culture would undermine our sense of security more than the threat of nuclear war


So what will life in the USA be like in 2073?  There is a lot of talk about how we want to leave the world for our grandchildren, but I’m not so sure we can even imagine what the world might be like then.

History does not believe in straight lines, so I’m not terribly concerned that the trends of today inevitably lead to their logical end!

Christians have a real advantage in this kind of world:  we know where we came from, we know whose we are, and we know where we are going!  That’s not entirely a metaphysical statement.

Having a framework to live within is a real help for dealing with a runaway culture.  We don’t know what diseases will threaten us in the future, we don’t know what political threats are waiting to be born, we don’t know whether technology will embellish the future or darken it, and we don’t know if our environment will continue to serve us or will retaliate and threaten our existence.

We don’t know what the future will be, but we can live in the days that each of us has with confidence and certainty that our lives are part of God’s plan.

We are not deists. We believe God was active in the world on Day One, has been involved and in control every day since, and will continue His work until the day of Redemption, when all of Creation will be made True!

“In Him we live and move and have our very being!”

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maggie-smith-downtown-abbey-tIf you are not a Downton Abbey viewer, then you have some explaining to do! Sherrylee and I just finished Season 3, but now, days later, I find myself still thinking about some of the drama—sure, some of the melodrama also—and I do miss the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet Crawley, played amazingly by the great Maggie Smith.

Downton Abbey has been broadcast in 200 countries worldwide and has had at least 120 million viewers!  I’ve been asking myself this morning what is it about this very British, very Edwardian period piece, that speaks to the whole world?

One of the ways to analyze narrative, whether TV, film, or literature, is to find the points of dramatic conflict or tension.  For instance, in Downton Abbey, the following points of tension are fairly obvious:

  • Tradition versus Change  -  The house and estate themselves represent ancient values and the fact that they are hardly financially viable—one of the main tensions running through the series—is because the world outside is changing in previously unimaginable ways.  WWI is (and was) the dramatic end of the old era—but not everyone at Downton knows that!
  • Upstairs versus Downstairs – The downstairs world of those in service, though intricately connected to the upstairs world of the lords and ladies, operates its own systems and personalities in both dramatic contrast but also a surprising degree of similarity to their superiors.
  • Dominance of men versus equality of women – The very first dramatic moment of the series occurs when the Crawley family with only daughters cannot continue at Downton because of a tragedy unless one of the daughters marries the heir-apparent, since only men can inherit titles.
  • Privileged social class versus democratic middle-class values – The new male heir-apparent to Downton is a distant relative who has grown up middle class. As another example in later episodes, the Crawley’s youngest daughter marries the chauffeur, creating still further class tensions in the family.
  • Inherited wealth versus mercantile values – The idea of the estate turning a profit is beneath the Earl of Grantham, but not the heir-apparent who later becomes co-owner of the estate.

I do not intend to allegorize Downton Abbey, but I can’t help but observe some obvious similarities to our yet-to-be serialized melodrama in churches today!

I wonder if a series called Old Campbell Street Church would go as viral as Downton Abbey?   Do you think we could develop the theme of Tradition vs. Change? What about the role of men and women?  And I have a pretty good idea we could do inherited values vs. current values!

The first episode might be something like this:  The Campbell family has been the wealthiest, most influential family in the Old Campbell Street Church for seven generations. The oldest male Campbell has always presided over the eldership, but the current Campbell family only has daughters, so the question of continuity of power is acute!

To make matters worse, the oldest and prettiest daughter has fallen in love with the youth minister, a talented but uncredentialed young man who did not even attend one of the big Christian universities!  The fear in the Campbell family is that if these two were to marry, the Campbell daughter would be doomed to a life of youth rallies and summer camps and that her husband, in an abuse of his family connection with them, might try to introduce new songs into the traditional worship.

The tensions increase further when the youngest Campbell daughter runs off with a Young Democrat!  Will she ever be allowed to return to the Old Campbell Street Church after having shamed the family?  And how will their children be raised?

Ridiculous, isn’t it!

Let’s just pray that God never has to watch this channel!


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Boston Marathon bombingThis weekend at least 25 major marathons will be run across the United States. Some have funny names like “Hurt the Dirt” marathon in Rockford, Michigan, or “Jailbreak” marathon in Wautoma, Wisconsin. Other marathons remind of us terrible times: Gettysburg North-South Marathon or Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

On April 15, the Boston Marathon moved from being one of the most prestigious marathons to one of the most terrifying.  At 2:49pm, two bombs killed two women and a little boy and injured 260+ people—physically!  The bombings also wounded the souls of all of us!

Random acts of violence are among the most heinous because they almost always target people who woke up on any given morning, got dressed, brushed their teeth, kissed their loved ones goodbye, and walked out their doors into Normalcy—whatever that is.

They were not the President who is reminded of the target on his back on a daily basis by the team of Secret Service agents who surround him. They were not the CEO in some South American country who signed the check for Kidnapping insurance or rides in a bulletproof limousine. They threatened no one, they were just . . . you and me.

What makes the wounds of random violence penetrate to our souls—whether it is the work of organized terrorists or of a single mentally-ill person with a backseat full of guns—is fear!

Almost twelve years after 9/11, two million people each day empty their pockets and walk through metal detectors and are reminded of that day of terror. Richard Reid tries to detonate his shoe full of explosives, so now we take our shoes off to be screened. Our belts come off because of the underwear bomber in 2009. Our laptops come out because of the Lockerbie bombings in 1988.  You cannot enter any federal building without walking through a metal detector because of the Oklahoma City bombing.

In fact, just the potential threat against any event has meant screening and major security tactics at major league baseball games, music concerts, at museums, and certainly any political events.

Unless you are almost 60, you can’t remember when the president rode in an open limousine!

So in the Nashville Country Music Marathon, the police have announced  “the deployment of hundreds of law enforcement and security personnel” who will be “very visible” along the 26.2 mile route.  More elementary school teachers will have guns, more movie theaters will guard their rear doors.

More mothers will not let their kids play in the front yard. More kids will carry mobile phones, mostly because their parents want to know where they are. And more preachers will be watched by bodyguards while their congregants sing and pray.

Random violence—the fear of dying–makes us afraid! As a boy, I slept in an unlocked house just seven minutes from where I live today. Now we not only lock the house, but we also set the alarm. Our cars have alarms, our keys chains have panic buttons

—and still random violence can kill our children on the streets of Boston, Oklahoma City, Sandy Hook, Aurora, and the list goes on much too long!

No amount of fear can protect you from deadly random violence.  Just like no amount of exercise or healthy eating can keep you from getting cancer or having a heart attack or getting hit by a bus!

Sure, we look both ways before we cross the street and we put on our seat belts in the car and we eat less red meat and  . . . .the list goes on, growing daily, of what we do to be safe and secure.

—and still we are afraid.  And still we are willing to spend more money and endure greater restriction in the hope of being safe and secure.

and still we are afraid of those who can kill us anyway!

Here’s the word from God today for you and me:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.

 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.(Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT)

“Slaves to the fear of dying,” that’s the phrase that convicts me.

If you want security and safety so that you will never die and no one you love will ever die—then you will always be afraid! And you will still die.

If you want to live free from the slavery of the fear of dying, then you can have that freedom through the One who promised: “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26).

Then you can run your race without fear.

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anti-CatholicThe historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. said that Anti-Catholicism is “the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people”(Gibson, The Coming Catholic Church, HarperCollins 2004). That’s a very strong statement in the face of both our racial biases and our economic and political biases.

You might test your own level of Anti-Catholic bias by your response to the naming of the new pope Francis I yesterday.  Check which box fits your response:

____ Totally disinterested. This has nothing to do with me.

____  Very put off by all the pomp and media attention.

____  Visceral distaste for anything Roman Catholic

____  Mildly interesting political/historical event

____  Deeply moved

Many thought anti-Catholicism was dead in American politics after John Kennedy’s election, but wasn’t it interesting how it resurfaced with John Kerry’s run! I also found it tell-tale that popular evangelicals could find their way along the path from cult to Christian for a Mormon presidential candidate, but could not make the same journey for a Catholic candidate.

According to what I have read, Anti-Catholicism came to America from Great Britain with the earliest Protestant settlers who were either religiously at war with the “Whore of Babylon” or the “Anti-Christ,” or they were early conspiratists, fearing a Vatican-controlled world dominance.  (During JFK’s run for office, I personally heard both of those strains of anti-Catholicism from our pulpits!)

The 19th century version of Anti-Catholicism derived more from immigration issues.  Whereas the United States had been predominantly and pervasively Protestant, waves of Irish Catholics, Polish Catholics, and Italian Catholics began to change the landscape and threaten the national culture in more than just religion. Many Americans do not know that Anti-Catholicism was a core component of the Ku Klux Klan’s identity.

Maybe this is a good time to re-think your own mindset toward Roman Catholics. Even in the very “liberal” circle of our fellowship which is prepared to accept into fellowship anyone who says Jesus is Lord—that’s usually how it is stated—I’ve noticed that they rarely include Roman Catholics in their circle. It’s pretty easy to include all those Christians who sing the same praise songs, have the same kinds of buildings, and who are more likely to fellowship us.

Does anyone doubt that Roman Catholics believe that Jesus is Lord? Our experience in Germany as missionaries was that we had much more in common with the Roman Catholics than we did with the Protestant church.  The Catholics believed that Jesus is the Son of God, that He rose from the grave, that He is coming back for His own. They believe the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Catholics baptize for the forgiveness of sin, take communion every Sunday, and they believe in the power of prayer.

The Protestant Church in Germany does not hold to any of the above! Some in the Protestant Church do—I don’t want to demonize them—but most of the pastors do not believe in the resurrection, and as Paul said, if you don’t believe that then you hope in vain!

Of course, after almost 2000 years of history, the Roman Catholic church has picked up a lot of tradition, a lot of doctrinal diversity, and a lot of human fraility. My brother-in-law, who has become a Catholic priest, says that it is the best of churches and the worst of churches.

Here’s what I know. The Roman Catholic church has had missionaries telling the story of Jesus in every country of the world long before—sometimes centuries before—my church sent anyone! They stand for Jesus, for obedience to the Word, for morality, and for peace in a belligerent world like few Christian churches have done.

I do not believe all they teach or practice; I really do not like it that I am excluded from communion with my brother-in-law.  But I will not pretend that the 1.3 billion Catholic believers in the world do not know Christ.

I am praying for the new pope that he will follow Christ and that he will lead his flock nearer to God.  That’s my prayer for him and for you as well.


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Quartet424-424x283Sherrylee and I saw a delightful movie last night, Dustin Hoffman’s directing debut film Quartet. The story revolves around about fifty residents of a state-run retirement home in England. All of these residents were once renowned musicians, but are now reduced to trying in their dotage to put on a gala fundraiser to save their home.

What makes this film unique among a growing number of films about paleo-aged people is that it is not about dying, not about dealing with long-term disease, and not really about dealing with a world that has passed them by.  It is about living!

One day the most famous operatic star (Maggie Smith) of her time steps out of the minivan to enter the home. She brings her reputation as a diva as well as her personal history into an established group of her former peers, which stirs up old rivalries as well as old passions.

Her colleagues need her to recreate her part in the Quartet from Rigoletto by Verdi, along with one patient whose mind is slipping (Pauline Collins), one who continually crosses social boundaries of propriety (Billy Connolly), and her ex-husband (Tom Courtenay)—and therein lies the tale.

You’ll laugh, cry, be mildly embarrassed, but mostly be touched by the joy, the love, the drama of these extraordinarily talented people.  And you will love the music!

What do we do with old missionaries? Sorry, I couldn’t help but going to this question.

Most of the old missionaries that I know have gone down one of three paths:

  • The most fortunate old missionaries have found a Christian college that gives them an office and an occasional class, where they can share what they have learned and experienced with students barely able to appreciate it.
  • Some are able to preach for a church—usually a small, rural church. These churches are often older people, so they don’t mind the slower pace of an older preacher—and they don’t mind the stories of other places.
  • Some just vanish!  Yes, they just disappear.
    • Occasionally they quietly return to their foreign home, where they work very quietly, living on social security checks or very small support from many small churches who remember their reputation for greatness.  And they live there until they die.
    • Others vanish in the States. They have no retirement, maybe not even social security since they lived out of the country for so long. They live with children or on charity. I’ve heard that a few Christian retirement homes make places for them.

We have finally awakened to the need for missionary care, both for those workers currently on the field and those who have recently returned, but are we not missing a great opportunity to draw on years of experience and continents full of wisdom and hearts full of love for lost souls?

In Quartet, these ancient musicians pooled their remaining talents and produced a splendid evening of entertainment.

What would God’s people do if our ancient missionaries’ talents were pooled? What could we learn? What would we attempt? Where would we go? How much faith would there be in that room?

Enough to move mountains!

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JanuaryToday’s MLK Day! I’ve given up thinking that someday there might be a HMW day—my initials—most likely because if your last initial has three syllables, the acronym becomes at least five syllables long and that doesn’t roll off the tongue.  At best, you become dubyah like #43—but I don’t think there will ever be a Dubyah Day—no class to the way it sounds at all—so that’s why I’ve given up hope!

To be totally honest, most of us don’t have national holidays named after us regardless of our initials because we haven’t done what it takes. Here is what you have to do to be a national acronym:

  1. Do something impossible. Most people thought that changing the laws regarding civil rights was probably a century-long process. Nobody really dreamed that in one person’s lifetime, a whole country could go from totally segregated to electing a black president.  For Dr. King and those like him, it was possible.
  2. Advocate something so important that you are willing to die for it. We all know about President Lincoln’s assassination because of the drama, but how dangerous was it in 1861 to be considered the fuse that lit the civil war. The movie Lincoln did a great job showing how Lincoln was willing to spend all of his political capital, to stake his entire reputation—even risk his life—to eliminate slavery from the Union. You don’t have to die violently—but you have to have a cause for which you will risk everything!
  3. Assume that you will spend your whole life working from a minority position. If you like what most people like, if you need lots of approval before you take a position, if you need to be a “winner,” you probably will never have your own day.
  4. Visit and get comfortable with the fringe! Similar to number 3, but perhaps more in the realm of ideas instead of people.  Most revolutions occur by foment on the fringe of a culture or society. Many of the leaders of the American Revolution were people who you would consider fringe people.  These kinds of people make normal people uncomfortable. They might be considered radical!
  5. In spite of the previous four conditions, you have to be a person that others will listen to and work with because you cannot accomplish anything alone! Lincoln was elected, MLK had millions who listened to his speeches, the leaders of the American revolution raised armies of volunteers who were willing to die for political freedom.

I am a Christian who is challenged by these thoughts. Christians are rushing towards the middle of the masses of society, hoping to mainstream and not be considered a fringe element. Jesus did not do that.

I think He would tell us to be strong and courageous and to not be afraid. We don’t need our own day because we have His Day, the Lord’s Day.

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Arlington CemeteryMy sister, who taught in minority schools in Dallas for almost 30 years, contributed a word to our vocabulary a few years ago, the word funeralize, as in We have been funeralizing a lot of people lately.

Sherrylee and I have funeralized two wonderful people in the last couple of weeks, one a 90 year-old family friend and yesterday, one of our closest friends from the twenty-two years we lived in Edmond, OK.

It would not be out of place to eulogize both of these wonderful saints, but in some ways they were very different. Paul was a church leader, a successful businessman, a strong personality, and healthy for 90 year–until the week before he died. Marlene was usually in the background, was part of a failed marriage—although her re-marriage in her last decade was blessed—and had a life full of serious—life-threatening—health issues. She was never healthy as an adult, walked with a cane the last year or so, and her death at age 62 was a release from a long-broken body.

Did you know that German cemeteries are kept liked parks!  Many are attached to churches, but even city cemeteries are usually beautiful places. Each grave is tended by either the family or by professional groundskeepers paid for by the family. Not only is this care required out of respect for the dead, but because it is not uncommon to use cemeteries as a place for a Sunday afternoon walk. I’ve heard German Christians talk about the perspective one gets by walking among the graves.

I thought about that yesterday in Oklahoma as we walked to the burial plot for Marlene. I read tombstone epitaphs for people who died fifty years ago, for a young women, for a child, for veterans, for people probably forgotten. Walking among these markers reminds us of the reality of our own short visit.

We lived in Germany just 25 years after WWII, so everyone we knew had lived during the war and lost someone. I wonder if young Germans still walk in the cemeteries?

It doesn’t sound very American, does it!  Even Decoration Day, the official day for visiting family graves and perhaps leaving at least artificial flowers, is just a relic of rural communities or of people who are very old.

When I was in high school at Fort Worth Christian, people called on our chorus to provide singers for their family member’s funeral, so I have sung at dozens if not a hundred funerals. As a boy, I hated the sadness and thought it was a kind of punishment ritual for the living.  That was youthful ignorance.

The Apostle Paul said, “We do not grieve as others who have no hope!” (I Thessalonians 4:13). Christians–above all others–understand funerals and cemeteries to be just markers, markers written not with permanent ink, but with pencil that will simply be erased by the Day of the Lord.

The sadness of funerals still makes me cry. It’s the sting of death—for which we were not created, but which we must experience.  But death has no victory.

“Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was” (Romans 6:5).

If we Americans don’t walk in cemeteries to gain perspective, let’s at least not be afraid of funerals. We have to somehow come to believe—really believe–what John revealed: “Happy are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are happy indeed . . . “ (Revelation 14:13)

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