Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Reflections on Katrina

As more and more information, pictures, and video get out from the hurricane ravaged states, the circumstances look worse than were predicted. I remember on Sunday afternoon it was reported that Katrina had been downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 storm. One meteorologist warned the reporter against making that sound like everything was going to be ok.

Everything is not okay in Southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and a good bit of Alabama. Thousands of lives have been uprooted. Homes, businesses, churches and school have been destroyed. There are no good estimates now of when New Orleans will be able to “get back to normal.”

What is normal, though? There are places on our planet that are ravaged by storms and floods annually. Even living high and dry and a long way from the coast here in McGregor, we face difficulties, sometimes devastating to us. What is normal?

Normal must not mean living without problems or difficulties. Whatever normal is, it isn’t a life of nothing but peace and tranquility.

Normal for Christians means life lived in the presence of God. That’s not just on Sunday mornings, but 24/7.

Many of you have been experiencing this. You have been more conscious of God’s presence and of the relationship. Your lives have not quit having their ups and downs. In fact, in some ways it seems like life has gotten more difficult because as you walk and live in God’s presence you are more aware than you used to be of things going on around you.

Life lived with God is not always easy or comfortable, but there is a sense in which it is good. All the time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Damaged by Katrina

City Officials of New Orleans issued a mandatory evacuation in the face of hurricane Katrina slamming the city. Even so, many people chose not to leave. At the time of this writing, there is no telling what the total damage or death toll will be just in the city of New Orleans, much less in the rest of the country, but many people must be wondering why someone would choose to ride out the storm.

After all, our society is bent toward survival. Our medical industry is driven to increase lifespan and health. Pop-culture worships youth and entices us to maintain at least the appearance of youthfulness. It is almost as though we believe, as a society, that survival is the greatest good.

Perhaps we can learn something from the desire many people have to ride out the storm as it hits rather than running away from it. They may have decided that they would rather stay with what they know and face difficulty than run from it. They may feel so tied to their communities, the shops, the churches, the schools, the neighborhoods, that they cannot imagine abandoning them, no matter what threatens. They might rather have their lives taken in the storm than run from it.

Many of those who left town will return to damaged, even destroyed homes, schools, and places of business. Many churches and community centers will have to be rebuilt, which will take years. Most of these places will never be “the way they used to be.” Some of these folk will adjust, grow, and successfully face the new lives ahead of them. Some of them will be lost in the disconnect from “the way things used to be.”

St. Paul wrote that “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” For Christians, like St. Paul, survival in this life is not the greatest good – life with and in Christ is the greatest good. Whether those whose lives are lived in the path of Katrina stay and ride it out, or escape for a few days and weeks hoping to have something to which to return, I pray they all find in these days the reassurance and hope for eternity that only comes through Christ.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer Mission Trip

I was honored to be invited to preach for the closing worship of the CTCYM (Central Texas Conference Youth in Mission) Senior High trip again this summer. Here is a downloadable version of the message:
Audio version


Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Sometimes I get really thirsty for a Diet Coke. I get so thirsty I can almost taste it, cool and refreshing, passing over my tongue. I can imagine the crisp feeling of swallowing it.

Then, lately, I’ve also had another sensation when I get thirsty for a Diet Coke. I have the sensation that it does not quench my thirst. So, when I get the thirst, and go by a big ol’ Diet Coke and start gulping it down, the taste is there, the feeling is there. And when it is done, I am more thirsty than when I started.

Since I have noticed this discrepancy in anticipated thirst quenched and actual thirst quenched, I have cut way back on my Diet Coke. I still get the feeling sometimes, but now, when I am thirsty, I drink water.

As I got to thinking about how Diet Coke does not really satisfy, I realized that there are many things in our life that are that way. We all have habits, routines, things we enjoy, that really do not satisfy us. Sometimes there is some instantaneous pleasure or satisfaction, but in the long term these things, like Diet Coke, leave us less satisfied than when we started.

The writer of Hebrews points out that there is pleasure in sin for a short time. I am not saying that drinking Diet Coke is a sin, but what pleasure there is in drinking it is short lived.

On the other hand, God offers us living water through Jesus. What God has to offer not only satisfies our thirsts from day to day, but forever.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Catch this!

I haven’t been back to my high school in over 18 years. I graduated over 24 years ago, but don’t live in the area anymore. My graduating class was 535 people, few of whom I kept in contact with after leaving home for college. The last person from high school I saw, besides my brother, was my senior English teacher.

I had several good teachers in high school. No check that, I think I had several great teachers in high school. They helped open the world of possibilities to me. They helped mold a shy, naïve young man into what I am today. (Fill that in however you want; at least I am not terribly shy anymore.)

Lately I have thought some about what made the difference between teachers I remember well and those I have to check a yearbook to find their names 20 years later. My first assumption was that the better educated were the more memorable. I don’t think that’s the case, though I have no idea how I would begin to go back and compare. Then I think maybe the teachers with whom I shared interest or life experiences are those whom I remember as great teachers. But no, that isn’t it either. In a school of over 2000 students, one doesn’t get to know one’s teachers as well and as personally as in a smaller school. I thought maybe it came down to subject matter; I liked the teachers who taught what I was interested in. That can’t be it, though, because my all time favorite was my senior English teacher, and I really didn’t like English.

I realized something. For at least that year, I did like English. My teacher brought such a passion for her subject to the classroom that one could hardly help from wanting to catch the passion. She was contagious. I caught it.

Christians, let us open our hearts to the passion that God has for us and “catch it.” Even more so, let us become contagious for Christ!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Vacation is over

As all you parents with children still at home know, school is back in session! This means life is back to a more normal routine. The world doesn’t take the summer off just because school is out, but it seems things change for all of us.

The start of the school year serves much like the start of the calendar year; it is an opportunity to evaluate our lives and make decisions and changes. Sure, you can decide to change things any time of the year, but when major change is happening around us, we can gain some momentum.

As the new school year gets rolling, I want to encourage you to consider your relationship with God. Have you been hearing from God lately? Have you noticed that he is at work in the world around you?

You may have been wondering lately if God took a summer vacation. When difficulty hits our lives, we often feel that way. I know some of you have had rough summers. I assure you from both knowledge and experience, God has not taken a vacation; He is with you. Now, more than ever, God wants you to know the comfort that comes from having a relationship with him.

Our mission as a congregation is to glorify God and bring people to Christ. We accomplish both of these things as we get to know God better ourselves.

Last Sunday I preached on reading the Bible. The Bible is full of grace and truth. It is the story of the God who created us wanting you to know Him personally. This Sunday I will be preaching on prayer. Prayer is communicating with God. Don’t wait till Sunday! Tell God today that you want a relationship with him, or that you want a deeper relationship with him.

I guarantee He is listening!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Vacation Report

Ah, life’s decisions. I am on vacation. Should I still write a column? Or should I take this week off, as the idea of vacation implies, and forget this responsibility. I have columns from the past I could submit, but should I?

With the wonders of technology, I can write a column while sitting here in my hotel room in New Braunfels, Texas, passing time while my teenage daughter sleeps in. Since I am here, and have the time, I may as well go ahead and write it.

Sometimes we fantasize that vacation will be a time when we escape all the reality of our lives. We eat, sleep, move, read, play, exactly and only when and how we want to. I don’t think the best vacation is that absent of reality.

There is an order to our lives; admittedly, there are different amounts of order to different lives, but we all live by some sense of routine, regularity, or normalcy. It does us no good to utterly abandon all order and routine, or to attempt to do so, for a week or two a year. In fact, I think it does us harm.

That there is order in the world and in our lives I see as testimony to there being a Creator. This Creator does much care if we believe there is a creator, because this Creator wants a relationship with those who have been created. God wants a relationship with you and me.

There is order; there is routine to any relationship, as to any life. Dare we attempt to abandon all order and routine? Not me. I’ll just take it easy for a week. In a routine way.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Looking "Christian"?

One of my seminary professors told us that in too many churches morality is best defined as one generation’s inhibitions imposed on the next generation. I have a good friend who knows this quite well. This young man is an incredibly gifted musician and worship leader. He is as committed a Christian as anyone I know. He also has tattoos.

Now stop right there, some would say. Scripture clearly forbids tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 says clearly: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” True as this may be, should we read it in the context of the preceding verse: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” Let all who do not cut the hair on the sides of their heads or clip off the edges of their beards cast the first stone at the tattooed one, I say.

Don’t get me wrong: I do not have any tattoos, and I am sure I don’t “get” the popularity of body art these days. Like many of you, I react instinctively as though such things are “just plain wrong.” On the other hand, I have shaved away my sideburns as recently as this morning.

As Samuel was reminded when God sent him to anoint David king of Israel, God looks at the heart. Our concern ought be for people’s hearts, not whether or not they fit into the mold of “how people ought to look” that we were raised with.