02.26.06 Bulletin Article — What Might Have Been

I’ll admit it. I watched something I’m probably not supposed to have watched. Thursday evening I watched the end of the Ladies Freestyle Figure Skating in this year’s Winter Olympics (Turin, Italy). Patriotically, I had an interest in seeing America’s own Sasha Cohen as she went for Olympic gold. She entered the event narrowly in first place over the favorite from Russia, Irina Slutskaya. At the end of the evening, both Cohen and Slutskaya were on the medal stand together. However, neither won gold. Cohen won silver, and Slutskaya won bronze. They both fell during their 4-minute routine; the gold medal winner, Shizuka Arakawa, didn’t falter at all. The looks on those young ladies’ faces while they were on the medal stand were far more interesting than their performances. Arakawa’s expression was the epitome of elation; Cohen’s and Slutskaya’s demeanors said, “I could have been up there right now instead of down here.” They no doubt were asking, “what might have been?”

Unfortunately, it seems that “what might have been” was the U.S.A.’s official Olympic motto for these 2006 winter games. What would have happened if Michelle Kwan was healthy and skated in the place of Emily Hughes? What would have happened if Shani Davis, Chad Hedrick, and the rest of the speed skating team had decided to get along? What would have happened if Lindsey Jacobellis didn’t do a hot-shot jump as she was crossing the snowboarding finish line and lose the gold medal? What would have happened if Bode Miller would have put his skis where his mouth was?

I am proud to be an American; the Olympians who represent me make me feel blessed to live here. However, we can’t help but think about how close we came to doing exceptionally well this year. Although spiritual lessons abound with events like the Olympics, I think it’s helpful for us to notice one lesson together from all of this: we as Christians don’t need to look back and ask, “what might have been?”

Several Biblical personalities have come to the end of their lives and wondered how things might have been different if they only would have done what was right in the eyes of God. After losing his property, reputation, children, and wife, don’t you suppose that Lot wondered how things might have been different if he would have chosen a different place to live (Gen. 13:10-11; Gen. 19:1-38)? The Hebrews writer tells us of the regrets of Esau in 12:16-17, “that no one is […] unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Moses viewed the promised land from Mt. Pisgah and wondered what it would have been like if he would have only obeyed God and treated him as holy (Num. 27:12-14; Deut. 32:48-52). In the New Testament, Judas regretfully questioned his actions which led to the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:3-10). These examples remind us all of the importance of every decision we make. In many ways, our eternal destiny is at stake.

For those who have not yet become Christians, will you end up thinking about “what might have been” if you would have only been obedient to the gospel (Acts 24:24-27)? For us as Christians, we need to be aware of the possibility of giving in and falling away (Gal. 5:4). We can overcome that temptation by remembering our security in Christ (Gal. 5:5), and depending upon Him for strength (2 Tim. 4:17).

Paul is a perfect example of someone who was on the track of regretful living (Gal. 1:13-14) and changed his perspective through obedience and endurance in Christ (2 Tim. 4:6-8). May we follow his example in our lives and remain faithful to the high calling (which yields high rewards) in Christ (Phil. 3:14).

May we never spiritually ask, “what might have been?”

02.19.06 Bulletin Article — Backyard Tag, Tug-of-War, and (Father) May I?

We had a great crowd at this past week’s T.N.T. (Totally Neat Thursday)! Thanks to everyone for coming and supporting this great opportunity.

For the past several T.N.T.’s, we’ve been able to go outside because of the unseasonably warm weather. Typically, I tell them that various trees, poles, and other landmarks are the boundaries for the various group games we play. Without fail, those imaginary boundaries don’t work very well. This past Thursday, I took some white crepe paper and made official, noticeable boundaries. From my perspective, it seemed the kids had more fun inside the clear-cut boundaries than they did within the imaginary ones of previous meetings. I think there’s a strong lesson for us all: we need boundaries.

Fortunately, God has given us boundaries. Unfortunately, it’s a culturally popular thing to throw out the importance of boundaries. Even many professed “Christians” deny the existence of numerous Divine boundaries. This area is likely where Postmodernism has hit the hardest. Postmodernism basically asserts that we only have the authority to set our own personal boundaries. I can’t tell you what to think or do; you can’t tell me what to think or do. Sadly, many of today’s brightest minds are treating God with this postmodernistic attitude. May we be thankful for God’s boundaries; may we abide by them in order to please Him.

This issue will be at the heart of a more specific issue over the next several months. One hundred years ago (1906), the official census recognized the separation between the churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)/Independent Christian Churches. Now many of our brethren are pushing for an official reconciliation between the groups. However, they are pushing for the churches of Christ to make an apology of sorts—admit that we were wrong 100 years ago to sever fellowship. The issues at the heart of the division involved instrumental music, fellowship with denominational bodies, women in leadership roles, and denominational methods of church organization. Essentially, many who are members of the Lord’s church are throwing out the boundaries and saying we were wrong to uphold the boundaries 100 years ago. In this dramatic, adult version of backyard games, religious leaders are opting for no boundaries even when God has clearly defined them.

What are we to do? Uphold the truth about the boundaries God has given us. We don’t have to be rude about the issues (Matt. 10:16). We don’t have to abandon loving responses (Eph. 4:15). We can be tactful and appropriate while being firm about God’s authority in spiritually significant matters (Jude 3).

How God’s authority is handled is at stake in this religious tug-of-war. He has spoken about what he accepts musically in worship (Heb. 13:15). He has identified those who have fully obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:41-42, 47). We only have the right to obey his specifics in these and other areas of our service to Him.

We are playing a spiritual “Mother, May I?” game as we try to reach the presence of our glorious Creator. He has told us the steps to take. We can’t choose to skip if we’ve been told to walk. We can’t take 7 steps if we’ve been told to take 5. May we remain consistent in our respect for God’s authority; may we uphold and defend it no matter what. Principally, obedience to God’s authority is as easy as children’s games. Spiritually speaking, the rewards and consequences are much greater (Matt. 7:24-27; Heb. 10:26-31).

08.20.06 Bulletin Article — Seeing the Bigger Picture, Spiritually Speaking

Don’t we all like to see the “big picture” in various areas of our lives? We feel left out if we think people more know more about a situation than we do. We ask questions to be able to make sense of some things. Bottom line, we’re curious. Most of the time we come by it honest. We simply want to know more.

Sometimes, we think we see the big picture when we’ve really only seen parts of the picture and made false assumptions based on those parts. Notice this story from an e-mail I got the other day. It’s written from an unnamed source’s perspective. It brilliantly illustrates said principle:
“I was flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles. By the time we took off, there had been a 45-minute delay and everybody on board was restless. Unexpectedly, we stopped in Sacramento on the way. The flight attendant explained that there would be another 45-minute delay, and if we wanted to get off the aircraft, we would reboard in 30 minutes.Everybody got off the plane except one gentleman who was blind. I noticed him as I walked by and could tell he had flown before because his Seeing Eye dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of him throughout theentire flight. I could also tell he had flown this very flight beforebecause the pilot approached him and, calling him by name, said, “Keith, we’re in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?”

Keith replied, “No thanks, but maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs.”Picture this…all the people in the gate area came to a completely quiet standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with the seeing eye dog! The pilot was even wearing sunglasses.People scattered. They not only tried to change planes, they also were trying to change airlines!”See, the man’s perspective allowed him to see the big picture: that the pilot was simply helping out the blind passenger walk his dog. Those outside the plane didn’t have all of the information to come to a full knowledge of the truth of the situation.

Spiritually, we need to do all we can to find the “big picture.” Just because we think something is a certain way spiritually doesn’t mean it always is. Just because we’ve always been taught something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.

We need to heed the words of the Hebrew writer from Heb. 5:12-14. All of us can spiritually handle the milk…or the basics. Now we need to move on to some meat…or “big pictures.”

Let’s seize every opportunity to learn more about our marvelous God!

08.13.06 Bulletin Article — Back to School Reminders

There is much that is associated with the back-to-school season. The supply lists have been filled, new clothes have been bought, and lunchmeat has been carefully placed on loaf bread. Something else associated with the start of the school year is the obvious end of the summer.

Having active summers with the youth group here causes us to realize how much we miss out on once school goes back in session. Spiritually speaking, most of us grow considerably during the summer months. The reasons for this growth are simple: we are around spiritually-minded people more, we do spiritually-focused things, and we are around worldly influences less. The secret to growth throughout the school year is simple as well: stay around spiritually-minded people, do spiritually focused things, and limit our exposure to worldly influences. The prescription for spiritual growth will work no matter the time of year: summer break , school year, spring, or fall. Let’s do our best to continue our upward spiritual growth throughout this school year and beyond. Here are some other tips to remember throughout the school year:

Don’t forget the changes you may have made this summer. Many of us, whether child or adult, have made spiritual changes during the summer months. These changes weren’t made on a whim or in a flippant manner. We shouldn’t treat them as such once we return to school. Notice Peter’s strong warning in 2 Peter 2:20-21, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” May we not be guilty of going back on our commitment to the Lord.

Don’t feel “bad” for doing “good.” There will be many instances during the year where we have to choose to stand up and do what’s right or give in and do what’s wrong. It could be easy to let our feelings of apprehension keep us from making the right choice. We need to choose what’s right because it’s what’s right. Listen to Peter’s words again, here in 1 Peter 3:13-17, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?…For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” We may face persecution for doing the will of God, but it is still the right thing to do. May we have the strength and confidence to do good and feel good about it.

Value the Lord’s work more than school work. I will be the first one to argue for the importance of school work. However, nothing is more important than the work of the Lord. Grades are a way of measuring your level of learning, so they represent something important. However, we are in a continual “course” where we are expected to teach, serve, and encourage others in the name of the Lord. He expects much of us…year ‘round. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God…” Jesus doesn’t say, “Seek only…” His point is to make the Lord’s business our most important business. Let’s do our best in our school work, but let’s remember that there is always work to be done for the Lord.

Make changes TODAY if needed! Earlier, we reminded ourselves to hold firm on the spiritual changes we may have made during this summer. If some of us didn’t make spiritual changes, now is the best time. If you need to become a Christian through obedience and baptism, make that choice today! If you need to talk to someone about how to make your life right with the Lord, do so without delaying. The school year is an excellent time to reflect and make these needed changes. We hope you’ll reflect on your life and do what it takes. Ephesians 5:16 says “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” May we make the best use of today in making our lives right.

The Lord has blessed us greatly with opportunities to bring glory to His name. May he continue to do so and may we continue to give our lives to Him.

07.02.06 Bulletin Article – Lesson From Failure

Time for a painful admission. Some of you already know, but I’ll go ahead and air my dirty laundry for everyone: I failed. I failed the pre-trip inspection prior to taking my CDL driven test. I am still not legally able to drive the 21 passenger bus with which we are blessed. How did I fail, you might ask? I wasn’t exact enough with my descriptions of what potential problems I was looking for. Example: I said that I would need to check the fuel tank for possible leaks. The test administrator said I failed to mention that I needed to check that the fuel tank was secured to the vehicle. What are they thinking? Safety. Hmm, good call on their part. I suppose most of you parents who may be entrusting your children to me on that bus one day (Lord willing I pass) are thinking, I would like for the person driving my son/daughter to know whether or not the fuel tank is securely attached to the bus. I understand those sentiments.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking I just got a fresh whiff of that classic cologne they call “real life.” See, I’m no longer in the world of “you get an A for effort,” or “you were better than everyone else,” or “you’ve got the rest of the semester to bring it up.” I can’t win in real life by cramming late at night and get by with just enough. The spiritual point? We can’t treat big deals (like safety) the same way we treat more trivial matters (like for me, grades). Are we guilty of this as Christians? I’m afraid we are sometimes.

When it comes to our children, I’m afraid we too often equate “raising our children in the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) to helping them get a good scholarship or pushing them to be a star athlete. Those latter things are often great pursuits for todays teens. However, if our mental approach to the bigger fish for frying is the same as those in-the-end trivial matters, we may have some serious regrets. See, I get a second chance to take my pre-trip inspection and road driven tests. We don’t always get second chances though. When it comes to raising children, for example, we don’t get second chances once they receive their complimentary bottle of the “real life” fragrance. The true test of success as parents is how children are when they are adults. The true test for the effectiveness of the youth program here at Midway is the spiritual faithfulness of children once they move on from the ranks of the youth.

As Christians, as the church, and as people, we need to own up to the responsibilities with which we have been entrusted. We need to do a much better job of preparing for the first time for some things. Preparation for some of lifes biggest tests can’t be done in second chance mode. The most notable of those is the Judgment Day (Matt. 25). When it all comes down to it, weve simply got to do it…and do it right…the first time…every time.

As the Youth Minister here, I promise to treat spiritual opportunities for your child with grave seriousness, for I know their lives are precious to you and their souls are precious to the Lord. May we all work together to make the big deals bigger and the lesser matters lesser. Thanks for all of your support and encouragement, God bless.

Author’s note: I passed the CDL pre-trip inspection and driven test a couple of weeks following the article. I’m legal now.

06.25.06 Bulletin Article – World Cup Fever

As Kerry and I were sitting in the hospital waiting room during Sandras surgery on Tuesday, I glanced through the edition of U.S.A. Today Kerry had purchased. One of the cartoons was featured above letters received from readers. Those letters related to the lack of U.S. interest in the current World Cup taking place in Germany. The cartoon showed Uncle Sam sitting on an examination table speaking with his doctor. He says to the doctor, I just cant seem to catch World Cup fever. The United States is notorious for not having the same enthusiasm for soccer as the rest of the inhabited world. There are many reasons for this, but thats for another situation. Soccer is one of the most simple and pure games played across the globe. I think it worthy for us to gain some lessons from this popular game:

Teamwork is a necessity. If youve seen any footage of this years World Cup games (or games from any year for that matter), you see exactly how large the playing field (specific term is pitch) soccer is played on. It has a much larger total area than American football fields. When you think about how large the field is and you think about how soccer is played (sometimes with long kicks down or across the field), you see that soccer cannot be played but with a great team. Even the best athletes need other great athletes in order to be successful in soccer. As Christians, we need each other. As the church, teamwork is required. When Paul was telling the Ephesians about the importance of unity, he reminded them of the purpose of everyone having different gifts in 4:12-13. Paul says, “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” We need to build each other up and work toward maturity within the church and stress the importance of teamwork.

Patience is required. In watching a soccer game, it is often said that it is boring. Part of that comes because it takes a while to set up offensive and defensive schemes and to work the ball into passing lanes and have the right angles to make passes and shots. In a game of 90 minutes, 1-2 goals is respectable. 3 goals is a scoring-fest. Therefore, players need patience to find the opportunities for goals when they arise. Fans need patience as they root for their team. We as Christians need patience as well. Notice the words of James in 5:7-8, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Lets be patient as Christians until the end.

Good things happen when youre in the middle. As a kid growing up playing defense, I was told to keep the ball out of the middle. Its a general principle that your chances of scoring are much higher if you have the ball in the middle of the field as your trying to score. Similarly, good things happen for Christians when were in the middle of working for the Lord. In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Lets be sure to get out there and stay in the middle…of the Lords work.

The world is watching. It is very likely that the World Cup is the most popular sporting event in the world. If its not, it rivals the Olympics. Even if countries dont have a team in the World Cup, they still are fans of soccer and still keep up with the tournament. If you havent had a taste of how much the world is into the World Cup, go to Pepitos sometime during the day: soccer decorations, US/Mexico flags flying, and yep, World Cup matches on both TVs. The world is interested in the World Cup, the countries involved have the opportunity to make statements on a global stage. Similarly, we as the church have the opportunity to reach the people of the world with Christ. Most people of the world cling to religion of some sorts. Therefore, we have the opportunity to use common ground and teach them about the good news of Jesus Christ. Thats exactly what Paul did in Acts 17 among the philosophers of Athens. He started with what they believed and taught them about the true God.

The world is watching us as Christians…lets do all we can to reach out to them.

U.S. Open Winners (from 06.19.06)

[This is originally from 06.19.06 (the Monday following the U.S. Open)]

Okay…big golf tourney this past weekend. It’s only our national Championship Tournament. Anyway, much hoopla surrounding the U.S. Open entering it for several reasons: Phil’s quest for 3 in a row (the so-called Mickelslam); Tiger’s return from his father’s passing (would have been a wonderful Father’s Day if he would have won); the most difficult course (Winged Foot) for an Open in many years.

Here’s who won, in case you didn’t hear: Winged Foot. The winning score was +5. I can sometimes go 3 or 4 holes and still shoot less than +5. It was hard…it was probably too hard. But, it’s always fun for us amateur golfers to see these golf machines struggle like we do. Congrats Winged Foot, you conquered the world’s best.

Now to a more interesting story: Tiger Woods also won. Huh? He missed the cut though. Yeah, yeah, I know he came out and had the worst two rounds in a major of his professional career. Follow me though:

Reason 1 — Phil Mickelson’s collapse on 18 shows us exactly how awesome Tiger’s Slam was in 2000-2001. Tiger never buckled under the pressure of winning his 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th majors in a row. Winning a major is tough stuff. Hats off to Phil for winning 2 in a row. Hats off to him for playing so well this weekend; many notable names and former major champions were sitting at home (or on their yachts like Tiger) while Phil was digging through trash and hanging out by the hospitality tent. Because Phil lost it–if only momentarily–Tiger remains the standard for major excellence. When Tiger is on, everything is on: body, mind, emotions, clubs, caddie, crowd, swooshes, cutaways to mom, commercials, etc. Phil’s a great American story; Tiger’s the American standard.

Reason 2 — Tiger’s apparent “failure” shows us that he is in fact human and that he can’t actually win every tournament in which he plays. Maybe he wasn’t prepared and focused because he was too busy consoling his grieving mother, or being consoled by his wife, or spending time with his brothers. Maybe that’s how I want my heroes. Sure, sports’ writers wanted to put together that emotional piece about Tiger winning the Open for Dad on Father’s Day. While that thinking is an attempt to weave sports and life together, it fails to do it accurately. Life is unpredictable, hard, and doesn’t always end in smiles and “happy tears.” Here’s the deal, Earl Woods raised Tiger to be the best. Being the best doesn’t always mean winning. Thanks again Tiger for inspiring us. This will last longer than the title of 2006 U.S. Open Champ.

Reason 3 — Tiger got to spend more time with Elin on their amazing luxury yacht.

And of course…real props to the guy who took home the trophy: Geoff Ogilvy. Even though he has not one, but two weirdly spelled names, he managed to sign both of them correctly on the winning card. He had some amazing shots, check out the re-broadcast if you have a chance.

Can’t wait til the British…