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Saturday, January 31, 2009

New "Gospels" Will Not Destroy the Church

The desire to discredit the Church is amazing. It's hard to believe that everyone can't see the true reason for these efforts. If the Church is discredited, if it has been built on false beliefs, then all the morals it teaches are wrong. If so, there is more credibility for the wild declarations of new age thinking, no reason for any guilt feelings and a better reason to do whatever feels good at the moment.

It did not begin with The DaVinci Code but it certainly gained momentum there. Here, the attack is on Jesus. He supposedly married and had children and was just a man with some really good teaching. A man can be right about so many things but still not worthy of worship. It makes Jesus a person with an opinion.

Millions of people read the book. Surveys reported that many of them believed it told the truth. Dan Brown, the book's author, started saying it was the truth. Cable channels began to get the most obscure "theologians" to say it was true. I had never heard of them or the places they taught.

Last week one of the major networks had a mini-series called "The Last Templar." Again, history was re-written to fit the story. In it a new gospel was to be found: The Gospel of Yeshua of Nazareth. It would say that Jesus was merely a man.

My wife had Tivoed the series for me. The first night's premise and acting was so bad I deleted it before I watched the whole thing. My wife told me there was another night of this garbage. I don't know why I watched the next night's airing. The story ended with the following moral: having faith in something is more important than knowing the truth. What balony!

The Gospels were not written hundreds of years after Jesus lived in physical form. They were written decades later. They were written by eyewitnesses or people who had talked with eyewitnesses. Many of the rejected so called gospels which abounded hundreds of years later were indeed written hundreds of years later.

There are no extant copies of the original Gospels. Why would I believe that a new gospel which has been discovered would exist in its orginal form?

The first disciples believed that Jesus would return soon after His ascention. They even hung around until an angel told them to get about His business. They didn't see the need to write the Gospels because they thought Jesus would return any minute. His delayed return caused them to write down the story of Christ.

These original disciples gave their lives for Christ. They were the most devious, evil people who have ever existed if they were perpetuating a hoax. Who would be percecuted, tortured and brutally killed to keep a lie alive? They did not believe that Jesus was merely a man. Their own sacrifices reveal what they believed.

Yet, that's not my only reason for believing that there will be no new valid gospels. The presence of Jesus in my own personal life testifies to the validity of who He is. If you have read my past blogs you know that I have not only spoken to Him but He has spoken to me. He had given my comfort, directed my life and even corrected me on occasion. He is my God, my Lord and my friend.

I will continue to read the books and watch the mini-series and so-called documentaries which will reveal new gospels which will challenge our beliefs. Their facts are full of holes and contain no holiness. The effort to destroy the Gospel of Jesus did not end in ancient times. It continues today. Their effort to destoy the Gospel depends upon a people who do not know the Gospel or the Lord.

I urge everyone to do some diligent research from credible sources. I plead for everyone to consider that Jesus is who He said He was: The Son of God. I ask everyone to try talking with Him and see if they do not get an answer.

The Church is not in danger of destruction by propaganda. However, I am concerned for the individual.

Do you know who Jesus is?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Make Sure You Value That Which Is Important During Bad Economic Times

People tend to let their values wander during good economic times. They have many more possibilities and these distract them from the really important things. I have heard many couples tell me that they were closer to each other when they were first married and struggling to make ends meet than when they later had plenty. It is easy to allow this to happen when there are no worries about tomorrow. Unfortunately, not taking care of today will always bring worries for tomorrow.

A bad economy will force us to remember that which is important. We can return to the things that will make a difference at the end of our lives by taking care of the important things today.

So, what are they?

They are: Friends, Family, and Faith.

I don't know why we have started insulating ourselves from the rest of the world. We don't know ou neighbors. We see them pull up in their cars and go into their houses and shut the door. They may wave but there is really no connection.

Our isolation is so great that a book, Bowling Alone, claims that people are still doing the things that they once did but they now do so alone. This includes those things which were formerly considered social events like going to the movies or bowling. We don't want to be bothered by others.

Isolation can be fearful when times get bad. There will be no one to bail you out. No one to come to your aid. This is too often seen when a group of people watch as another person is mugged.

We need to communicate this to the politicians. They believe they can simply go along like they always have because times haven't gotten bad for them. They keep voting themselves raises when their approval rating is abysmally low. They are not cooperating with each other. The majority simply snubs their noses at the others. They don't need the others to pass their agenda. They don't get it. In bad times we always need each other!

We must band together. We must watch each others' backs. We must renew and make friendships which will pick up that friend when he or she has fallen down. Friends are extremely important. We no longer have the luxury to be isolated. We must all work together.

Family should be valued during all economic times but it will be essential during bad ones. The destruction of the family is the destruction of a nation. Family is the seminal unit for any society. Values should be communicated by family. The weakness of a family is seen when values are communicated by the media, entertainment personalities and what feels good at the time. The destruction of the family has bred the sins of greed and dishonesty. We would never have fallen into the trap of sub-prime loans if we had solid values taught universally from our homes. If we are going to get out of this crisis, we must return to family values.

Last, there is faith. It is the foundation for friendships and family. It gives us hope for rain when there are droughts. It gives us an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not yet seen. It gives us values which have stood the test of time. It gives us forgiveness for our sins and a blessing for our future. It tells us what is really right and that right will never fade even in the prevailing mores of a society.

We must return to these three things. Especially now, for the fabric of our society is unraveling quickly before us. A desperate people will do unconscionable things to fulfill their basic needs. A bad economy may be the least of our worries when we have no significant values.

Friends, Family and Faith-- these are the really important values in our lives.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cracks in the Foundation of Marriage

Many marriages are struggling. Many people have struggled for so long they are calling it quits. Many have decided to stay together for the kids or because of finances or other reasons which indicate the marriage has gone bad. Would these people have done something different if they had noticed that there were cracks in their marriage's foundation?

The foundation of a marriage is like the slab in your driveway. It will develop cracks if it is not maintained. It needs to be refinished and kept from the roots of trees and shrubs which can crack and eventually destroy it. Even water will eventually destroy a driveway if it is not routed away from it.

The cracks in the marriage foundation come first in the lack of communication. A man generally wins his wife's heart by talking to her. He talks to her about his life and what they will do together and whatever is on his heart. He wins her heart by sharing his.

Soon after marriage men often stop talking. However, they grunt more. Questions like, "How was your day?" or "Would you my mother this weekend?" are met with grunts. (Though not the same sounding grunt.) Each night the wife tries to engage her husband in conversation while he grunts. She knows only one way to get him to talk. Make him mad! He talks freely when this happens. There is a serious crack in the marriage foundation when much of the conversation between a husband and wife is said in anger.

I ask men what they think their brides want them to do when the wife talks and talks and talks to them. Their answer is nearly always, "Listen." WRONG! The wife wants him to talk to her. She craves a true relationship and that means communication.

Marriages need to be refinished often. Men should ask their wives for dates each week. He should talk to her during the date. The subject matter needs to be each other as much as possible. Keep talking about your dreams together and many cracks will be healed.

Men, on the other hand, need something that wives may not want to give. Men need admiration. I said this in an article several years ago and my wife greeted me with, "You're the man! The greatest! There's no one like you!" (This may not be an exact quote.) I laughed because I realized she had read what I had written but it felt really good at the same time. Words of admiration from the woman he loves will inspire a man to new heights. He will do anything for that woman. And thus, we have many affairs begin. When the wife doesn't give admiration, the man will gravitate toward someone who will.

I tell every pre-marital couple I counsel that there are three things I recommend to keep a marriage burning strongly. I have never done any marital counseling for couples doing these things.

First, be part of a church together. Regularly attend a Sunday School class or small group so that you will get to know these people. They will provide a common social atmosphere. They will be people you can share your triumphs and hurts. You will help them and they will help you. It is a common social foundation for the two of you. This is not merely going to church together. People can attend church like they it is a concert. They can listen and never meet anyone around them. They need the social interaction a Sunday School class or other small group of Christians can provide.

Second, pray together. This may be the most intimate spiritual thing that a couple will do together. It is often awkward for the man or woman to do so but it allows both of you to put your trust in God. It also gives you a common spiritual foundation which if sincerely meant will guide you through many of your decisions together.

Third, have lots of sex with each other. Most couples really laugh when they hear this because they think I am joking. Sex is a way we bound with our spouse in more than a physical way. It reveals a peace between husband and wife when it is done freely. (Rather than done with coercion) It should calm the husband and give security to the wife. If not, there is something wrong here.

A couple who has strong common communication, strong common social relations, strong common spiritual relations and strong common physical relations will have a strong marital foundation. The cracks can be noticed when any of these cease to be strong or common.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What Should You Do in a Crisis?

Eventually it will happen to you. It happens to everyone. There will be a moment when something unexpected happens. It will be bad. It may be sudden. What should you do?

Most crises do not arrive totally unexpected. There are some indicators for most. Most people are fired with some warning. They know someone is going to get the ax but they may not expect it to be so up close and personal. People usually know the possibilities before they go to the doctor. They know that no one is impervious to bad news.

The first thing you should do if you suspect anything is going to happen is to determine what the worst news you would receive might be and think what the result of that news will mean. In other words, if you lose your job the worst result of that might be that you lose your house. Once you have determined the worst case scenario, do all that you can to keep that from happening. Don't sit on your hands and let the storm overwhelm you. Think of all the things you can do, choose those that are reasonable and do them. They will give you something to do and hope even if they don't work. They will show others that you don't let things run over you. You do something about your problems.

At the same time I would suggest that you pray. This is the best of times to pray even if you have never prayed before. You will mean every word because you need some relief from the crisis.

My suggestion for prayer might surprise you though. First, thank God for what you have. Through this you show God that you have recognized His grace to you already. You will be depending on His grace for your future, too.

Next, be specific with your prayers. What do you really need? Is it any job or a particular job? Most of us don't want any job. We want one that we enjoy going to. It could be that your crisis is an opportunity to get more training to get that job. Ask God to give you what you really need with the best of your ability to discern what that is.

Join with others in this prayer. Bring your family together and pray. They have a vested interest in this too. This will be an opportunity to bring your family closer than they have ever been before. So, make sure you don't hide the crisis from them. They can't help or pray unless they are aware.

Explore all the possibilities which will meet your need. Prayer does not rule out effort on your part. Look on the internet and email people who indicate they have answers you need.

Your greatest need may be encouragement. Stay away from people who believe there is no hope. They will bring you down and keep you from doing the things to get out of the crisis. Get around those who are possibility thinkers. I hope those people are at a church near you. God is on our side even when the crisis hits. Never forget that. Get encouragement from it. Never give up, never, never, never!

Finally, thank God for bringing you out of the crisis. You should do this before you are really out of the crisis. This reveals your faith in God. I once had a man with terminal cancer whom I wrote. I said, "I thank God that He will heal you. God is guaranteed to heal you; if not in this life, surely in the next." That man kept that note beside his bed until he died. He told me to read it at his funeral. I would have rather he was healed on this earth but heaven is not a punishment. It is a reward.

This attitude will help you get out of your crisis. The person who is crushed by his circumstances has a harder time healing, getting a job or convincing someone that he or she should buy his product. This person has a advocate who can't be defeated and knows that while he may be knocked down at the moment, he will get up to run again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sometimes, You Just Have to Get Over It

I have had things done to me that hurt. There have been people who hurt me intentionally and unintentionally. I can believe what they have said to me. I can sit in my room all alone and cry. I can compensate for these hurts by overeating or drinking. I can overspend or overachieve in an attempt to buy friends or impress people.

I can do all of these things and find that none of them will make things right. Therefore, the best thing I can do is just get over it.

I forgive every last person who has done things which made me feel badly. I choose not to believe what they have said about me. I believe what God has said. He said that I was precious enough to Him that His Son would die for me. He said He loves me and that nothing can take that love from me. My failure to forgive only hurts me. I can't leave what they have done until I have forgiven them. Forgiving lets me get over it.

Today is the first day of my future. No statement of inadequacies made by others will affect me. I choose to set my sight on the Lord and allow Him to do amazing great things through me. I can truly do all things through Him who strengthens me. My past will not predict my future. Setting my sights on His greatest lets me get over it.

My present condition is not final. I do not have to stay where I am physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. I have boarded a new boat and have sailed from the shore on which I was exiled. I will not say this is all that will ever be. The God who is within me has made me more than victorious. With that victory in sight I will get over it.

Discouragement shall not be my master. Those who believe their mission is to criticize are not prophets. They hold no power over me. Bad events in my life are not final. They do not keep me where I am. My God has the power to lift me high if I will just wait upon Him. My belief in Him will help me get over it.

There is something worse than bad things happening to good people. Good people sometimes allow bad things to rule their lives. All of us should say we shall no longer live within the circumstances of this world.

In this world you will have tribulation but be of good courage because Jesus has overcome the world.

Now, isn't that the best "get over it" statement you have ever heard?

Monday, January 26, 2009

How Can Anyone Have a Secure Future?

Have you watched the stock market? It goes up and down like a yo-yo! There is bad news, good news, undetermined whether it is good news and news that makes no sense at all. The jobless rate is up. The news questions whether you will keep your job. Your retirement money is all but gone. Social Security has little chance of survival. What are you supposed to do?

I asked the question of my congregation last night: How many mistakes would we have avoided if we had seriously, diligently, carefully asked God what we should do, waited for His answer and did what He said? The answer was: All of them!

God seems to be the missing factor for most people who are seeking a secure future. We depend on bailouts, presidential administrations and the way the wind is blowing before we depend upon God.

I remember the old preacher, Vance Havner, telling the story of the very ill grandmother who asked her family what her prognosis was. The family said, "The doctor told us it was in God's hands now."

She said, "Has it come to that?!"

Havner said, "It always comes to that so we might as well start with that!" It is in God's hands.

Where is the call to prayer that we should be hearing for our financial situation? Iceland's government has collapsed during this financial crisis. Will we wait until ours does the same before we will go to God?

Are we lifting up our employers in prayer? If they don't make money, they can't pay salaries. The most stable job is one in which you do great work for a company that makes lots of money.

Are we praying for our neighbors? The stability of a neighborhood depends upon consistency of the people who live in it. The house next door may be foreclosed upon if my neighbor's job is lost. A neighborhood of vacant houses is not good for those who are left behind. Housing values will fall and crime will come in.

Are we praying for those businesses in which we shop? Each store represents employees, transportation and manufacturing. The closing of so many shops will result in the loss of many more jobs than that one store employs.

Are we praying for the elected officials? They must make wise decisions that will not haunt us many years from now. I often tell my staff, "Today's problems were yesterday's solutions." We cannot simply look for the fastest way out of the economic crisis. We must do so with the future in mind. Who besides God can see the future?

Are we praying for our own decisions? We must make the right decisions as well. If it sounds too good to be true; it probably is. But how will we really know if we don't ask God?

Can we have a secure future? Yes, we can but it will mean putting everything in God's hands.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What If God Did Something Today?

Many people come to church expecting the same-old, same old. The expect the songs to be sung and the sermon to be given and everyone will leave to eat their fried chicken. It will not be special. It is just another Sunday. There's no real reason to get excited about it.

This is not my case. I awakened at 3:30 AM with the message I will give this morning on my mind. I had prepared the message last Sunday night. I dressed at 4:00 AM and came to the church. I went over the message. I didn't change it. However, I did relive it.

This morning I preach a message called, "God Wants to Talk to You." It is a message that God has been working on me for a couple of months. You can tell by my previous blogs because I have mentioned that I hear God and want others to hear God, too.

While I very much appreciated the book The Purpose Driven Life, this speaks to those with The Purpose Given Life. I believe God speaks to us for many reasons which will lead to us knowing Him and His will for our lives. The most precious thing we can ever receive from God is His word to us. Our lives are transformed if we follow it. God's glory is multiplied if we follow it.

I have a great expectation this morning. God is going to do something!

(I know that God is doing things all the time. We, or at least I, don't often notice His work. I am speaking here of something extremely special; certainly not mundane.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Caution, Mr. Obama, When Considering a Quick Fix

I realize that the national economy is much more complicated than my own finances but I wonder if some of the mistakes I have made when trying to fix something quickly would apply on a grander scale. Here are some of the things that I have learned.

People who provide quick fixes generally have their own best interests at heart. There is something in this for them or they wouldn't want you to make the decision so quickly. I have been in many stores where the salesman has told me that the price they are giving me today won't apply if I walk out of the store. I have always looked for the exit sign. Sure, I may have missed a deal sometime somewhere but they are using fear to keep me from looking around. I have found that looking for more solutions takes longer but it usually pays off.

Quick fixes have often caused delayed and long term problems. We take our time allowing a drug to hit the general public because we don't know what the long term problems might be. Even then, we find many of them causing problems well past the testing period when released to a greater number of users. We need to know some history before we make a leap. Study the Great Depression and you will find at least four theories of why it happened. It may have been all of them but it surprises me that we still are not definitive about something that happened over eighty years ago. We can look at the result of the quick fixes. What problems did they spawn?

Doing the wrong thing means you have less chance of doing the right thing. It will be a trade-off. You can't take the money back once it is given out. You will not have the money to do something different. Careful consideration will generally give better results.

Not all problems require action. Sometimes things will right themselves. The best action may be no action is some cases. Allowing others to take responsibility for their mistakes helps them guard against those same mistakes. Their pain will be real and you should hurt for them but they may need to go through it without a fix.

I want your administration and the economy to do well. I, however, do not want partisan politics to prevent either of these from happening. We as a nation need to understand that our government does not exist so that we will have a utopia. All of us, not just the government, must take responsibility for solving our problems. This attitude will promote responsible action in the future so that we will not have these same problems in the near future.

Just be cautious, Mr. President, when considering what others urge you to do.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Use Your Time Carefully

Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV) 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

It has been said that time is something that you can't make more of. This truism makes every moment special. Many people have great plans but few actually do anything. They hope for a tomorrow that never comes. They do not understand the principle of TNT (Today Not Tomorrow). They speak in terms of not having enough time to do what they want but never start or make time for the most important things. They trade off the most important things for passing fancies.

There are lots of things I want to do. I want to be in the business of doing them. This means I cannot waste my time. I wanted to exercise and read novels but could not find the time. So, I subscribed to Audible books ( and ride a bicycle to work. I have to go to work anyway. It takes me twenty-five minutes to ride a bicycle to work rather than ten minutes by car. I listen to the audible books while I ride. (I ride on the sidewalks so I can listen to the book rather than traffic.) This way I get three things done at once. I read my book, exercise and go to work. If I didn't do this I would neglect two things I would like to do.

I limit my television time. There are only a couple of shows that I watch regularly. Many other good shows may be there but I just don't have the time. I like to watch college football in the fall but I often only watch the second half. If the game is a blowout I haven't wasted my time and if it isn't the winner is the one with the highest score at the end of the game anyway.

I would like to say I make a to-do list everyday. I get more done each day I have a to-do list. This is obviously something I need to employ. Otherwise, important things won't get done.

Everyone has priorities. Many of these are insignificant if we do not consider that we have been placed on this earth for a purpose. If we believe it is all about us we will flounder from one thing to another. We will try to placate our children rather than raise them to be responsible adults. We will be bored with the most important things and thrilled with the most mundane. We will point backwards at our lives and say we did it our way but we will not have changed lives. At best we have been entertainers. At worst we have been forgotten.

The days are full of evil. One of these evils is wasting the day. Even the plans of God which He has held for us before the beginning of time will matter little if we do not follow Him by using our time wisely.

I hope that everyone who reads this is blessed by this day. It is truly a gift. Much of the blessing comes in using the day wisely.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why Is There So Little Grace?

I heard that people booed former President Bush before the inauguration of President Obama. What would be the purpose of this? Here is a man who did what he thought was right for our country. He did not waver in this no matter what you thought of him.

Grace seems to have left our country. We have lost the ability to respect an individual while disagreeing with him. We are quick to point out others faults, demand a pound of flesh and never give forgiveness. What has happened to grace?

I believe that most people never experience grace in their lives. Their parents may have never given them grace. They don't go to church so they don't understand God's grace. They have never received grace so they don't ever give grace.

A graceless society is dangerous. It becomes more and more litiguous. Each mistake is followed by a lawsuite. There is no unity in a people who become afraid of each other. Fears breed suspicions. Stories grow from suspicions. Actions emerge from the stories. Violence comes from the actions. Is this what we have already?

Grace holds the door for the person behind you because you respect that person. Grace returns the shopping cart back to its place because you respect the poor soul who has to gather these to return to the store. Grace says, "Thank you," and, "Please." These do not come because you are made to do so but because there is grace in your life.

Grace disappears when people have had great expectations for their lives and these expectations aren't met. They see others receiving what they think they deserve. There will be less and less grace depending upon their sense of entitlement. Thus, people are not thankful when they expected to get a $5 raise and only get a $3 raise. They think they have been cheated. They will give no grace because they feel they have received none.

God's grace needs to be realized by all. God's grace is for everyday. We receive it in the people He places in our lives. We receive it with each breath we take.

I have realized that anything short of burning in hell is God's grace to me. I have sinned and deserve nothing from God. His grace has been extended to me in anything that will not lead me in that hell. I should make no expectations of others that would give me entitlement and, therefore, destroy the grace I should extend to everyone else. Why should I give them grace? Because I am receiving God's grace right now!

We should extend this grace to our new president. No matter what he does which we might disagree with, we should respect him as our president and give him grace.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stepping on Others Will Not Make You Taller

I am short and like most people who are short, I would like to be taller. Shoes with lifts would make me look taller but I would still be the same height. Nothing reasonable will make me taller.

Some people think that stepping on others' backs will make them look taller. They point out others failures, downfalls and discouragements and believe they have triumphed over them. They may think they are taller because they look over the other person but they haven't grown one bit.

I read a newsletter from someone claiming to be a Christian yesterday who proudly stated his theological politics while dismissing that of others. He pointed out that the organizations he supported were gaining in dollars given while the others were suffering. I wondered how this could be Christian. I wondered how he could claim success at the expense of other Christians. I wondered how long his group would put up with this.

If this other theological political group is his enemy he should pray for them. He should pray for them to prosper, not to falter. He should pray that God does good things in their lives. He should pray that God would show them the error (if it is indeed error) of their ways. He should not treat them with the arrogance of a Pharisee who looked down upon Jesus.

The characteristic which shows the world that we are Jesus' disciples is love. Yes, love sometimes is hard. It addresses sin. It even separates the unrepentant Christian from fellowship with other Christians. But this is to bring grief upon the sinner to repent. Christians should not think they are better than others because they have not committed the same sins.

I do not like theological politics. They divide Christians. They put us at odds with each other and communicate that we are not Christians at all. I, for one, am sick of these politics. I don't want to fight with other Christians because they may do some things differently than I do. I do not want to fight over interpretations of the Bible which I don't believe but can understand how one could believe such.

This is not a matter of tolerance. It is a matter of mission. We are in this together to bring people to Jesus Christ. We do so, not out of preference, but out of truth. We do so as an act of love for others. We destroy that ability when we fight among ourselves.

I must say I am no better than the man who has tried to stand on the backs of others in order to look taller. I, too, sin and grieve my Lord. My commitment is to pray for him fervently.

This is not because he is my enemy but because he is my brother.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Going to Church Can Be Hard

"Mom, I don't want to go to church," comes the whining statement of the son. "The sermons are boring and the people don't like me."

"But you must go, son,"is the mother's reply.

"Why must I go to church?"

"First, because you are forty years old and you should know better and, second, because you are the pastor!"

I am a pastor and I go to church every week. I was on vacation last week and visited a church. I like doing so because I need to know what it is like to come to a new church.

Every week people visit who have never come to my church. Many of them are looking for a church home. They have tried others and have finally arrived at Thalia Lynn. I identified with them as I visited a new church this past Sunday.

We didn't know where to park in the new church. My wife and I looked for visitor parking. We didn't find any so we parked as close as possible. We were very conscious of anyone who looked our way. It wasn't a large church so we thought we must stick out like a sore thumb.

Of course, we didn't know where to go once we entered the building. There were people who opened the door and gave us an order of worship but we were very self aware that we looked like people who didn't know where they were going. Fortunately, we discovered the sanctuary within a few minutes.

We sat in a pew with hopes we were not sitting in the wrong place. Many people sit in the same seat every week. We feared being asked to move if we were sitting in someone' s seat.

The one welcoming the congregation asked the visitors to remain seated while the members stood. We were identified and given a visitor's card to fill out. With card in hand we were invited to stand as many came to greet us.

The service was pleasant. The sermon was good. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. This service was blended. There was nothing there to be offended by nor to dislike.

The service ended with announcements. We didn't know anything about the church so many of them didn't make any sense to us. A couple joined the church and the interim pastor said he was going to lunch with them. I thought, "Does he do this with everyone who joins?" This may be an incentive for joining.

We left like lightning after the benediction. We were afraid people would stop to talk with us. We didn't want the questions we expected. (Are you new in the area? Is this your first time here? etc.) We just didn't want to waste their time since we weren't really prospects. No one stopped us.

This visit was good for me. I was reminded of all the feelings we have when we enter a church we have never attended. They didn't keep me from attending but they were uncomfortable. Just think about it. You enter a place where you know no one and don't know where to go. You sing songs you don't know. You are afraid you will do something wrong.

These feelings are the payments you make in advance to find a good church home. I think the reward is worth the sacrifice. I urge everyone looking for a church to suck it up and find one.

I learned something else that was also valuable. I made no connection with the people and would not have returned for a second visit. This had nothing to do with the sermon, music or my uncomfortable feelings. We all need a relationship with someone to be drawn back.

I know it is hard to go to a new church.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I'll Bet You Know Where Is Frozen Over Too!

Today is a cold day for much of our country. It made me think of all the times that I said, "That will happen when you know where freezes over!" Well, this may be that time.

I suppose I have said that I would never do a lot of things that I ended up doing. I said I would never be like my parents but later was proud to be just like my parents. I have said that I wouldn't ever go back into some stores because of poor service that I eventually went back to. I said I wouldn't ever speak to someone who I eventually became good friends with. I guess final resolutions are really not that at all . . . even when spoken to yourself.

Since I know I am capable of any evil, I should never say that I will never do any evil. (Is this an oxymoron?) That goes the same for where I won't go, where I won't shop, who I won't call a friend, who I won't forgive. These stubborn attitudes are just going to hamper my life.

I always get up on a new day. I should make decisions based on the best information I have that day. Otherwise, I might be keeping a vow to myself that will ultimately hurt me.

So, am I never going to say never again? I don't think I can ever make that statement.

Gotta go . . . I have to do a lot of things I said I wouldn't do til you know where froze over and this appears to be that day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Did Prayer Make a Difference?

Yesterday a plane went down in the Hudson River. (I was taking off on a plane out of Norfolk at approximately the same time. I didn't hear about the incident until I got to Texas.) Birds were sucked into the jet engines within a minute of takeoff. The pilot courageously guided the plane for a crash landing in the river. All of the passengers and crew survived. Many are calling this "Miracle on the Hudson."

I listened to a couple of the news reports with passengers saying that the pilot told them that they should brace themselves for a hard landing. These passengers said everyone started praying. I guess there were no confirmed atheists onboard.

Did prayer truly make a difference? I know that many will say that this is superstition. To them this the witch doctor who dances and the rain comes. Who can really say if prayer played a part?

I believe it did. However, not simply because I would like to think so. You have to look at the circumstances.

The planes engines were not working. There was no way they could be restarted. The plane was in the air from momentum and the lift it would provide. The skill of the pilot cannot be discounted but putting down the plane in water that would certainly cause hypothermia without any loss of life seems impossible.

News reports said that many of the survivors were in shock. I am sure they all thought that they had lived their last day. The fear of death must have been more real to them than ever before. It must have been hard to believe they were all alive. How many people can say they have survived a commercial airline crash?

I could be wrong. Prayer may have had nothing to do with it. However, I assure you I will be praying if the same circumstance presented itself to me. I'll bet everyone else on the plane will be praying with me. Atheism doesn't seem to help at a time like this.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why Does Fear Sell So Well?

You are watching your favorite tv program when, during a commercial, the local weatherman interjects, "Will it snow? We'll see at 11:00!" If he gives any indication that it might snow people rush to the grocery stores to buy bread, milk and water. Have you ever thought that maybe the grocery stores pay the weathermen to say it's going to snow?

We react to bad news as gospel. If someone says that the banks are going out of business we will remove our money. If we hear a report that says the earth is likely to be hit by a large meteorite, we will start worrying. It doesn't matter that the FDIC has insured our money or that we haven't had a meteorite of this size hit the earth for millions of years. We will start giving money to protect ourselves. We will support legislation that will do so too.

I understand the media. "If it bleeds it leads," is their motto. They know that fear and carnage will get people to watch. They are in it for the money. (Not for the public's right to know) Their ratings determine how much they make.

I understand the politicians. They know that a people who feel threatened will turn to someone who gives some evidence that he or she can protect them. Politicians sell this in a big way. "You need me," they claim and ask, "where would you be without me?" A whole lot richer ought to be our response!

I don't understand us. Why are we so afraid? Is it because we don't do our own research and don't know the real truth? Do we have a sense of impending doom that is embedded in our souls? Does any information of disaster just confirm our fears?

From now on I choose to do my own research. I will not be suckered in by media or politicians into thinking the sky is falling simply because they say so. I will not make fearful decisions based on the popular view of science but take into account other research. I will investigate global warming (Saying this on a day when cold temperatures in the Northeast will reach the record lows of 1972 when the climatologists were telling us we were going into another ice age is not so brave.), nuclear energy, the amount of oil remaining in the world, the quality of my drinking water and other things I have been told to be afraid of.

Fear sells so well because we don't do this. We accept what we have heard. We believe the politicians. Why do we do this? This is a greater mystery.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Love My Church

Churches are not buildings. They are people. The people of Thalia Lynn Baptist Church are wonderful. I can't say enough about them.

I have been pastor here for almost four years. (I came March 27, 2005.) The people here have been the most loving, friendliest people that anyone could ever meet. They have accepted me with extreme grace for I am far from perfect. They receive people with love for that is where grace originates. Their love covers over others flaws.

I was contacted by Thalia Lynn in October of 2004 concerning coming to be pastor here. The committee member told me that Thalia Lynn was a "moderate" church. I had already told another church who had contacted me that I was not a "moderate" about anything. Thankfully, I asked what that word meant to Thalia Lynn. The answer was, "We also have women deacons." I knew the New Testament Church had women deacons so this did not bother me. All Baptist churches have women deacons (servants), most just don't ordain them.

Thalia Lynn proved itself to be a church who wanted to be biblical. Don't get me wrong, it is definitely a Baptist church and preserves Baptist principles but it does so because they are biblical rather than traditional. I love to preach because they are excited to hear the Bible and are willing to correct me when I am wrong. They are gentle but they will surely tell me my errors. This, too, is biblical.

The church does not have a lot of rich people. We have no medical doctors and only a couple of lawyers. Most of the people are just the hard working, friendly sort of people you would love to have as neighbors. They are compassionate toward others and endeavor to meet others needs.

The church has about fifty ministries. I couldn't list them all here but there are a couple which exemplify their compassion. The church feeds over 100 people each week who need food. Members come to the church each week to meet people who can't feed their families. Some are between jobs; others just can't make ends meet. They do so with a spirit of love and often pray with these folks for their other needs. It is truly an example of what the church is as a whole.

I tell the members that I don't give them a good recommendation. I tell them that I tell other pastors that they are the meanest people I have ever met. When they ask me why I would say such a thing I say, "If I told these pastors the truth my life would be in danger. They would knock me off so they could become your pastor!"

I don't deserve Thalia Lynn Baptist Church. I am not that good of a pastor. I thank God for them. I know they are God's grace to me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Do You Hear God Too?

It bothers me that most people have never heard God. Honestly, I have never heard Him audibly--I guess I'm just too Baptist for that but I still hear Him. I hear Him in my heart.

I think most people believe that hearing God is mysterious. Maybe they don't know what He sounds like. Maybe He has spoken to them and they have not heard.

Revelation 3:20 (NIV) 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Many people do not see what has been said. They do not understand that God knocks-- a signal to be allowed in-- and He speaks. They must be willing to hear Him before they actually hear Him.

I read several years ago that two-thirds of the people who regularly attend church say that they have not had an encounter with God. This shocks me. Is it because the churches they attend do not have a belief that you can hear from God or are they missing what God is saying? The answer maybe a little of both. Speaking about hearing from God in many churches will put you under suspicion. It is easier to be like everyone else. Even the words, "God spoke to my heart," are often dismissed by many people. Afterall, only the minority hears from God anyway.

God wants to speak to you. He does not want to chew you out. He wants to have fellowship with you. He loves the conversation.

I have heard people define prayer as speaking to God. It is more than that. It is also listening to Him. Sometimes we treat God like a fast food restaurant. We go to the counter (altar) give our orders and expect His prompt, courteous and generous response. No other conversation is necessary.

No parent I know wants his children to treat him that way. Parents want conversation with their children. They don't want to be the constant request line. They love to have their children come but they also want to speak with their children. Why would we expect God to act differently?

I want people to converse with God. Sometimes that takes listening. Sometimes that means you have a willingness to do whatever He asks. Both of these will upset our schedule. We will have to listen rather than talk and defer our own will in order to do His.

Sure, I have heard someone say that God has spoken when the true speaker is the one whom I have heard audibly. Sure, I have been considered fruity when I said God told me.

I once advertised a car for a certain price. It was a reasonable price. Yet, I had asked God what I should charge. One person inquired if I would take $100 less. I told him that I wouldn't take $5 less because I had prayed about it and this was the price God told me to ask. The inquirer couldn't get off the phone fast enough! I suppose he thought I was a nut. Don't nuts hear from God?

Maybe our society has brought us to this. It is not the first time that hearing from God was rare. 1 Samuel 3:1 (NIV) 1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. This does not mean things cannot change.

Do you hear from God? I would be interested in your stories. You can either email them to me or leave a comment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading My Blog Won't Make You Live Longer . . .It Will Just Seem Longer!

The doctor closes the door He is carrying a stack of reports which he silently reads with a grim look on his face.
The man on the other side of the desk is obviously nervous and finally bursts out, "Doc, how bad is it?"
The doctor says, "At my best estimate, you have six months to live."
In almost a whisper the man asks, "What should I do?"
"I think you should go marry the meanest, ugliest woman you can find."
Surprised the man asks, "Will that make me live longer?"
"No, " the doctor replies, "but it will seem longer."

The University of California at Riverside has discovered that those who are ambitious and disciplined live an average of four years longer than those who are impulsive. So, paying your bills on time and making to-do lists every day will lengthen your life. Yes, there may be four more years of living but are they worth it?

This means living a life of order and achievement. This means that you know where things are and you don't have to wonder where you put them. This means you plan your vacations, days off and long term projects. This means you eat your vegetables and have ice cream in moderation. Is this worth it?

The answer is an overwhelming, "Yes!" If you do what is right you also don't have the worries of those who are completely impulsive. You have more money because you have planned your spending. You are able to spend less money because you aren't buying impulsively. You wait for the sale. You buy quality because you have researched the products. You are in better shape because you know that this is important for achievement. You protect your relationships and don't let them deteriorate before you work on them. Your life is generally calmer and better.

Have you ever wondered why some people have more wrecks than others? Many times it is because they do not plan for anything to go wrong. They don't plan for the road to be wet or that the guy next to them will change lanes unexpectantly. They drive aggressively and it gets them in trouble.

This can be true in so many other areas of life. Some people have more illness. Many times it is because they don't take care of themselves. Some people have more financial crises. Often these are the same people who have no savings. Impulsiveness may seem like more fun but the private lives of impulsive people are full of worries.

So, eat your vegetables, work out and finish your to-do list. You won't just live longer; you'll live happier.

I guess I should buy a Day-Timer now. Right?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Show Me the End of the Bailout Line

Its a scary time in America. The financial industry got itself in a lot of trouble. (I know the government helped them do so but they didn't have to bite the bait.) They asked the government for a bailout. The auto industry got itself into a lot of trouble. They got the government to bail them out. I heard the steel industry is asking for a bailout now. Where is the end of this line?

We are trying to create a no-consequence world. There are no consequences for any bad action. You get in terrible credit card debt and you can call a company who settles for pennies on the dollar. You don't pay your taxes and you call ex-IRS employees who will fight for you. You get greedy in the financial world and go bankrupt and the government comes to bail you out. And there's a pill you can take that will make you much slimmer while you sleep. (I have thought about writing a book called Fairy Tales for Adults.)

How do parents tell their children to study, practice honesty and work hard so that they can be successful? The children will say, "Don't worry, Mom and Dad, somebody will bail me out!"

This blog should sound strange coming from a pastor who preaches the greatest bailout there ever was. Jesus paid the price for your sins so that you did not have to suffer the consequences. Yes, I know I seem very hypocritical. But Jesus didn't save us so that we would be irresponsible. I believe total irresponsibility is will be the final product of all of these bailouts.

There are consequences for bad actions. Those consequences teach us and help us to succeed later. Irresponsibility teaches us to jump off the building because there is no sudden stop at the end.

What will happen to a society that rewards those who are irresponsible? Everyone knows the answer to that.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Objects Appear Bigger The Closer You Are

Tonight we have the biggest and brightest full moon of 2009. The moon's orbit is not perfectly round. The elliptical orbit makes the moon closer at times. Tonight it will be at its perigee or closest point. The moon will be 31, 000 miles closer. It will appear bigger but won't have grown by an inch.

This is, of course, the most elementary of principles. You hold something closer to your eyes and it takes up more of your field of vision. It doesn't have to grow to appear larger. However, we totally forget this principle when considering circumstances in our lives.

We generally hold our problems very close. We hold a bill we can't pay very close by worrying about it. It begins to consume us. We think about it constantly. The same can be said of an illness or a child who is hurting herself or losing your job or any number of things which cause us consternation. These problems appear much bigger because we have held them so close.

Other things appear smaller when you hold one of your problems up close. I guess its all about relativity. My paycheck looks smaller when I hold my bills close to my eyes. At least, it looks smaller than the bills. It distorts our whole view of the world.

The same is true with God. He appears much larger when we are close to Him. The other things appear much smaller when you are close to God. He hasn't gotten any bigger than before. His abilities haven't improved from before. He isn't more powerful than He was before.

I know you knew all of this. Maybe I needed to tell myself.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tim Tebow's Help from Above

I am a Big 12 fan. I wanted Oklahoma to win the National Championship. I thought the Sooners were unstoppable. No one could play in their league. However, I'm wondering if God had other plans.

I am sure that God watches football. He watches everything. I also think He is a fan. He is everyone's fan. I can't help but believe that He helps Tim Tebow be Tim Tebow.

Tebow had Phil. 4:13 under his eyes during one recent game. That says, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Florida won that game. I wondered, "Does Tebow use this like a superstitious icon?" I don't know anyone's heart but I have believed a lot of players point up or cross superstitiously rather than really giving God the glory for what has happened. Many do not have a Christian walk that supports their "faith-like" actions. It's just superstition as far as I'm concerned.

Last night Tebow had John 3:16 under his eyes. I said, "Why John 3:16? How can I root for Oklahoma now?" I was prepared for Phil 4:13 but not John 3:16. It is the central verse for the Christian faith. It speaks of God's love, sacrifice and desire that people have eternal life.

There was no mistaking that Tebow ran like a man powered from above in the second half. He would not slide into the defenders. He put his shoulder down and made the extra yards. He got up and willed his team to play better and they did.

I couldn't help but think, "Is it cheating if God empowers you to play an extraordinary game?" The answer is, "No, because every player on the field has the same ability to ask God for help."

Could it be that Tebow merely believed he had God's help and played with a self-fulfilling prophecy? Yes, it is possible. I believe faith is necessary to do great things. He may have believed and God gave him no help at all.

Does God always help us like we think He should? No, He doesn't. Some times He allows us to fail to teach us something much greater.

What about the Christians on the Oklahoma team? Didn't they have a right to have their prayers for a win answered? No, none of us have rights to demand from God what we want. He does what is best. Sometimes the best for us is a "no" from Him.

Yet, last night I do believe that Tebow had help from above. The Lord says, "For those who honor Me I will honor." And this young man consistently honors God.

At least for now, I would say, he played with help from above.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I See Live People. . . All the Time

I love movies with a surprise ending. Thus, I loved The Sixth Sense. I especially liked the line, "I see dead people . . . all the time." It is given with such sincerity that I, too, believed he had seen dead people.

I see dead people, too. I am a pastor. I do lots of funerals. I see dead people all the time. They are dead because they are no longer able to respond through their bodies. They are not dead because they no longer exist. This is a distinction that most people miss.

I suppose we find the idea of talking to people who have died fascinating. We certainly have enough movies and tv shows whose main theme is talking with the dead. I have watched a few of these. They do nothing for me.

I was riding my bike to work this morning and noticed how many people never saw me. I am alive and moving. I am able to respond to stimuli. They made right turns in front of me. I have a light that flashes so that I will be noticed. It did no good. They never saw me even when they looked directly at me.

I stopped in a gas station to get a candy bar a few weeks ago. I didn't say a thing to the clerk. She told me how much and I paid. She said, "You sure talk a lot." Of course , she was saying this facetiously. (The truth is I do talk a lot; just not on this day.) Her real message to me was, "You haven't seen me!" I got the message, smiled and apologized. Everyone should be seen.

How many times have I gone into an airport or a mall and never seen any of the people there? How can I tell them that they matter to God when I haven't let them matter to me?

Now, I see live people. I see the teenagers walking through the mall with nothing to do but hoping that something will happen. I see the men rushing in to buy something as quickly as possible so they can leave. I see women spending the day buying things that they will probably bring back tomorrow. I see children hounding their parents to get an ice cream or go to the play area. Each of these people matter a great deal to God. I don't meet many of them but I do say some small prayers for God's blessings upon them. I don't have to know what that will be. God knows what they need. I just want to know that since God loves them greatly, that I have agreed with God for His blessings upon them.

You know, you can see a lot of people if you just look. I see live people . . . all the time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Little Steps Make You Grow Smaller

It's the 7th of January and many of us are wondering about our New Year's Resolutions to lose weight and get in shape. We are still actively pursuing these goals but there is a shadow of doubt about our abilities to finish the race. We are still showing our enthusiasm but it has started to be a little more acting that genuine.

Our problem is that our goal is to lose weight and get in shape. This isn't a lifestyle change. It exists until the goal is reached. We will return to our old lifestyle with any decent excuse. Eventually, we say, "What's the use?!" and give in to our natural cravings.

The answer is to change our natural cravings rather than set a goal of weight. This means a lifestyle change rather than setting weight goals. So, I will tell you what I am doing. You need to have your own cravings changed.

I no longer look for the closest parking place. When I go to the grocery store or church I park further away (unless it is raining). It is a small walk but remember, everything adds up.

I bike to work. I have to go to work anyway. It takes a little longer but I burn off about 20 lbs. each year by riding my bike. (I don't weigh 20 lbs. less each year. I burn the calories that would have put 20 lbs. on each year.)

I take the stairs when possible. I visit a lot of hospitals. Most people wait forever for the next elevator. I grab the stairs and often beat the elevator riders to their floor.

I stopped eating everything on my plate. Restaurants typically overfeed us. I sometimes split the meal with my wife. I am no longer afraid to ask for a take-out container. Other times, I just leave some of it on my plate. I can almost guarantee that I will overeat if I eat everything on my plate. I just decide before I start that I will leave something behind (or else it will become part of my behind!).

There are other things I must do but haven't mastered yet. I must stop eating while I am doing something else. I eat while I watch tv. That takes my attention off of the eating. I don't even know I have eaten and I certainly don't notice how much. It is easy to eat a whole bag of potato chips without any knowledge of doing so while watching tv.

I must stop waiting until I am very hungry before I eat. Hunger causes me to eat faster. In doing so I don't react to my body's natural responses to being full. I, then, overeat before I have noticed what I have done.

I need to eat on a schedule. This is extremely hard. My life does not have a schedule. I should insert snacks during the day. They should be at a certain time with the other meals. This would keep me from getting very hungry and keep my stomach small.

It is the little things that can be done that will make the big difference. I know that most of us would like to lose the weight we have overnight but this so often results in a very rapid return to our previous condition. The goal has been reached. There is nothing more to work for. Why not go back to the lifestyle we adore?

We must change our natural desires by replacing them with stronger ones. That takes a lot of time and a whole lot of little steps.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Forgiving Yourself

I told someone recently, "I live my life either living up to or living down to what other people think of me." I did not realize that it is not other people with which I struggle. My greatest critic is myself.

I have done a lot of really stupid things in my life. Many of these were hateful, sinful and embarrass me even today. Some times I remember them and feel guilty all over again. My first response is to ask God for forgiveness. The problem is: If I have already asked God to forgive me and He has, why do I need to ask Him again? Of course, I don't.

The Bible says, "Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." I believe he stands before us to accuse us of sins for which we have already been forgiven. He reminds us of our sinfulness only to the extent of the things we have already confessed. He doesn't want us to feel guilty about the things we haven't confessed. That might lead to repentance. Feeling guilty for already confessed sins devours us.

The spilled blood of Jesus Christ is the basis for forgiveness. God accepts this as the wages that sin demands. It is the basis by which we forgive. If we truly know that Jesus has died for our sins so that we are forgiven, we can give forgiveness to everyone because we have no right to hold on to the unforgiveness. We seem to accept that for everyone else but when it comes to us we want more than the blood of Jesus.

If I know that God has forgiven me on the basis of Jesus crucifixion and I don't forgive myself, I have a higher standard than God has. I will always feel guilty if the highest standard of Jesus' death on a cross won't satisfy atonement with myself. There is no higher price to be paid, there is no penance great enough and there is no self inflicted punishment which will satisfy. It will devour you.

So, I tell the devil he is a liar when I start feeling guilty for sins I have already confessed. God has forgiven me. Jesus paid for all of this sin and all the others I have committed. It is paid for no matter how egregious my sin appears to me. I thank God for His forgiveness. I thank Jesus for paying this high price. I tell myself the truth. I am forgiven no matter how I feel. I keep saying this to my Lord and, thus, I am saying it to myself.

The next time you feel guilty for something you have already confessed, repented of and received restoration with the Lord, tell the devil he is a liar. You are forgiven. He didn't set the standard in the first place and he certainly can't set it now.

God bless you. Yes, He has.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gaza, Israel and Hamas; Do We Understand?

I was in Israel a little over a month ago. I left on December 4. Things were calm. In fact, they were more relaxed than I remembered when I was there ten year before. (They did confiscate a pocketknife from me at one of the security checkpoints but I have lost a bunch of these in U.S. airports too.)

It seems that all the news from Israel is violent now. Hamas thought that a cease-fire is like a timer which would allow them to attack Israel. I have a hard time believing that their rocket fire was anything more than a provocation for Israel to attack. Do they hope to get the other Arab countries involved? Do they believe they will get support from the international community? I have no idea.

Too often Americans who believe they can solve the world's problems step up and defend or condemn the actions of other countries without knowing what is at the heart of the matter. Most Americans don't know American history, yet many of these will prescribe solutions to other countries. I can't tell you that I know the answer to the problems in Gaza but I know I should have enough sense to withhold judgment.

I did not find open conflict with Arabs and Jews in Israel. The people I met wanted to make a living and get along with others. I saw one protest while I was in Israel and it had nothing to do with Arab-Israeli conflicts. It was organized. The police were there to monitor but they were leaning against their patrol cars drinking water and paying more attention to their conversations with their fellow officers than to the protesters.

Yet, there are some people who have an embedded hatred which they teach to their children to continue the conflict. These people have grown up with this. It is normal and natural for them. They cannot imagine releasing the hatred. They are a minority yet they make many people believe that the whole country of Israel is constantly fighting conflicts with the Arab people.

People asked me, "Did you feel safe?" upon my return. Their question revealed their perception. This perception is perpetuated by the media. I don't think they have an agenda, I think they are justifying the money their news agencies are shelling out to keep them in Israel. They make every conflict a major story.

This clouds our thinking. We are unable to discern between a serious conflict and a minor one. We call all of them major. Therefore, we believe their is a constant hatred between all Arabs and Jews in Israel.

So, I pray for peace in Israel. I pray for the end of conflict and forgiveness to be given and received. I don't pretend to understand it all. I don't think I have to.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Hope from the Utah Utes

The mighty BCS conference team, Alabama, was convincingly defeated in the Sugar Bowl last night by the Utah Utes (Frankly, I don't know what a Ute is.). The sportcasters were claiming that Utah had met their match. They would not longer be undefeated for Alabama would mop the field with them. They should accept their fate. The BCS poll had spoken.

You know that commercial where the phone speaks for the person. The phone says that its owner didn't get that call so the owner walks right into the disaster that call would have prevented. Well, Utah didn't get that call which said they were already defeated before the game began. They went forward like they were champions and put Alabama away as if they were any other team on their schedule.

I was amazed at the way Utah handled Alabama. They sacked their quarterback a zillion times. They kept their defense from getting into any type of rhythm. They plainly "whooped 'em."

This doesn't mean that Alabama isn't a good team. It means that there are good teams that are not in one of the BCS conferences. It is a statement which says that those who work hard, set their goals high and don't look back can play with the best of them. It is hope for everyone who has been told that their education from a supposedly inferior college will not allow them to be successful. It says "keep going" to everyone who has been told that they would never succeed at their chosen profession. It declares that the judgement of others does not relegate you to failure or success. It says that the school of hard knocks gives you a pretty good education too. It says, "Don't tell me I can't!"

So, I congratulate the Utah Utes. You give all of us hope who have been told we can't.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Did the IRS Design the BCS?

Maybe the rule should be: Don't count on any organization which goes by its initials to be simple. The IRS has a tax code that is over 66,000 pages long. No one really knows it all. It has to be the worst system that can be designed. Every attempt to simplify it has resulted in more confusion.

So, we also have the BCS. It stands for Bowl Championship Series . . . I think. It begins with a ranking system which is voted on, a win-lose system and a computer. How is it any better than what we had before? Every year we wonder if the best teams are in the championship game. Other teams have legitimate claims to be there.

I heard the sportscasters claim they wanted a championship game plus one. In other words, the four best teams would play for the championship. I suppose you have to limit the number of teams at some level but this will leave a Utah or any team from what is considered an inferior conference out of the mix every time. This, too, is not legitimate for a championship. It also makes every other bowl so much less important. Who will go to the non-championship games?

How many bowls are there? I don't know but I believe it is in the neighborhood of thirty. If we were to take every conference winner and add at-large teams chosen by the coaches that numbered thirty-two teams, we would have thirty-one bowl games.

The first level would be conference champions against at-large teams. The bowls closest to that conference would be chosen for that level. That would take sixteen bowls. The next level of bowls would be located strategically in eight regions of the country. They would be determined before the season began. The next level would be four bowl games. Again, these should be strategically located across the country. The major bowls could bid for the next two levels. The Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Rose Bowls would each have a shot at becoming the championship game. If they bid less they would fall into a lower level. The lowest bidder would be in the level below the semi or final game.

These bowls and where they would be could be done each year before the season begins. This way teams would know where they want to go before they begin play. It also allows teams to play some difficult opponents early in their schedule so they can prepare for the playoffs.

The system we have now makes schools have weak opponents early so they can climb in the rankings. (However, this plan didn't work so well for Michigan last year.) The only team that loses two games and still goes to the championship is LSU if this doesn't change. In other words, unless you are LSU and you lose a game, you don't lose hope for winning the championship.

No one would say that a team ranked below thirty-two would have a reason to claim they should be allowed in the championship playoffs. Besides, if a team that is ranked thirty-two gets to the championship game our rankings meant nothing in the first place. Cinderella is a fairy tale, not a real story.

Choosing thirty-two teams allows us to get beyond those who claim their team is best. It is like the doctor cutting way beyond the tumor to make sure he/she has gotten all the cancer. We will eliminate the arguments of who is best if we go way beyond those we believe are the best.

Every bowl would mean something. Ticket sales will soar. Sponsorships should also soar. People will watch each of the games because they know their team will possibly have to play one of these teams if they keep winning.

This system is simple. Conference champions automatically go. At-large teams are voted on by the coaches. Rankings are already in place. Choosing the teams would take very little coordination. Fighting over which bowls get which games would be the only difficult part.

In the end we would have an untainted champion. Isn't that what we all want?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Who Knows What Will Happen in 2009?

The prognosticators are in full season. A new year and new predictions come abundantly. People gather around with eagerness to prepare themselves for the predicted events. I, personally, think it is silly.

Yes, I am a pastor and know there is something called prophecy. Yes, I know that many events in the Bible were predicted by men and they came to pass. Yes, I know there are several things yet to come. But, no, I don't listen to these self proclaimed prophets.

The prophecies of the Bible were understood much better after the events than before. The prophecies concerning Jesus' birth would have assured that everyone believed in Him if the scholars had understood the prophecies. Yet, they didn't understand and He was rejected.

The mystics who claim they can predict do so with wide interpretations. They speak of disasters and great events. Afterward, they count on people applying an event to their prediction. If you shoot with a shotgun, you are bound to hit something.

Most people don't hold this prognosticators accountable. Who remembers what was predicted for 2008? No one keeps up with this so that they can only point out when they are right.

People are fascinated with predictions anyway. Don't we watch the weather report each night? Do we hold the meteorologists accountable? No, they are right enough for us to keep watching. The only professionals who are wrong more often are economists.

I do not believe that we are along for the ride. I believe we participate in the events of our day. Yes, there will be events that I can do nothing about. I can't prevent a hurricane or an earthquake. I can pray to God. He can change these events. (Actually, I wonder why more people haven't thought about going to Him about the economy.)

I have found that luck has a lot to do with the events in my life. The harder I work, the luckier I get. The more I am obedient to God's will, the better my life has become.

So, I have some predictions for 2009.

I predict that 2009 can be the best year of your life. I predict that following God in all that you do will result in a most incredible walk with Him. I predict that God has great plans for you in this year. I predict He wants to do things in your life that you think are impossible.

Will you challenge me in these predictions? I hope so.