Thursday, July 31, 2008

Headin' to Texas

This week I'm leading a team of nine adults on a mission project to Arlington, Texas. The trip down was a western cattle drive in reverse. Old West buffs may remember that many of the cattle drives up from Texas ended up in Sedalia, Missouri. No, my team isn't just a herd of cattle, but the route is the same.

We are working with one of our wonderful mission partners, Mission Arlington, under the leadership of Tillie Burgin. Many of you may be familiar with this remarkable ministry. I have often said that if the Book of Acts were taking place today, it would look like Mission Arlington. I have never seen a better model. If you have not heard of Mission Arlington, you might check it out at

So pray for us. We spent today working on an outdoor construction project and the temperature was 104. We're thinking we are on the mission trip to hell. But God is already blessing in great ways. Think cool thoughts. More later on.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Scotty, Gilligan, and Fife

Newsweek ran a great piece of commentary awhile back written by a rabbi, Marc Gellman:

A friend I call The Flounder reminded me of the sorrowful fact that in the last nine months three television icons dear to me have, as we say in my line of work, passed to life eternal. They are James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek, Bob Denver who played Gilligan on Gilligan's Island, and Don Knotts who played Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. May God receive their souls into the world where everyone is a star and where every life is syndicated. Beyond the personal grief their passing has brought to their families and friends, I ask you to consider the characters they played as metaphors of our lives in these broken times.

Scotty represents all of us who are constantly asked to do the impossible and to meet unreasonable deadlines by bosses who just don't understand that you can't run engines at warp speed after Klingons have blasted the engine room. I think mainly of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan now and of how every day they are asked by well-meaning bosses to go out there and do a job that everyone knows is impossibly hard but most people know must still be done if Iraq is to be stabilized, so that the Middle East can be stabilized, so that the war on terror can be won. If that example is too politically incendiary for you, then perhaps you might think of the linemen who repair power lines in the winter during a storm, or think of single mothers raising kids with not enough money or help, or think of clergy folk trying to get people out of the malls and off the golf courses on the weekends and into church or synagogue on the Sabbath. So many people I know feel like Scotty and so few like Captain Kirk. So many of us say, “I canno give ya more power captain. The engines are already overloaded!” And then…we do.

Gilligan represents all of us who are congenitally happy despite our circumstances. The Howells (and occasionally Ginger) were the first to complain, but Gilligan was always happy. Even though they were marooned on an island which nevertheless seemed to provide them with new clothes and new sets every week, Gilligan's choice was always to see things in a positive and hopeful light. He was helpful without being obsequious, brave without being foolhardy, and courteous without being slavish. He was also self-deprecating. His humor was always directed inward, and his optimism was the reason you knew that some day, when the network gods willed that it be so, they would be saved. Yes he was a buffoon (actually more a schlemiel than a buffoon) but aren't we all? There are just so many times when we can cavil against the fates, and list the reasons for our victimhood, but in the end, being a fool for hope is far preferable than being a cynic for reality. Gilligan had no desire for promotion and this makes sense to me now. A truly happy person is already at the highest rung.

Don Knotts as Deputy Fife personified the klutz who is convinced that despite everything he is destined for bigger things. Deputy Fife was all bluster with just one bullet, and that is just like many of us. The bullet is self-confidence. Do you remember when geeks were ridiculed? Now they run the world and the reason is that they are clueless about criticism and focused only on the road ahead. Many of us feel or have felt an absolute identity with Deputy Fife, who was clearly in over his head, but in time he and we have come to learn that those who are not prepared to fail and be laughed at, can never prepare to succeed (I read that in a self-help book). Anyway, when I came to my synagogue I only had one bullet in my gun. If I could not serve God through them, I would leave and maybe sell something for a nickel more than I paid for it. I never had to fire the bullet, because the Psalmist was right when he said that God protects children and fools.

Dear God, please protect the souls of James, John, and Donald, and please protect the Scottys, Gilligans and Fifes down here who are all just trying to do their best with what they have for you.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Boarding Pass, a Bible, and a Blessing

As we walked through the airport headed to our second flight, my daughter said, "Dad, how come my seat isn't with you guys?" She handed me the boarding passes and sure enough, three in one row and one off by itself, 21E. "No problem," I assured her, "I'll swap seats after we board. You sit with Mom. I'll sit in your seat." "Thanks, Dad." Like I really had a choice in the matter.

Anyway, as we boarded I found Rebecca's seat and I plopped down next to a guy about my age. He was sitting next to the window with his overhead light on, reading a book. I buckled up and settled in, looking back a few rows to make sure my family had found their seats. That's when I noticed that this man was trying to read a brown hardback Bible opened to Leviticus. I say he was trying to read because every minute or two he would pause and shake his head, struggling to make sense of what he was reading. I couldn't help but think of Phillip and the Ethiopian trying to make sense of scripture on their chariot ride. I waited a few moments not wanting to seem abrupt or pushy.

"Hey, uh, are you reading some Leviticus? That's a pretty tough book."

"Tell me about it. You know this stuff? I've been trying to read this all week. I decided last month that I would read the Bible and see what it was all about, but this is killing me. Like could this be any more repetitive?"

"Well, if you really want to make sense of the Bible, maybe I can help you."

"Really? This is my fourth flight this week, and you're the first person to say anything about me reading the Bible. Have you read this before?"

"Sure have. I'm a pastor, so I'm more familiar with it. I've learned some background that makes it easier to understand."

"You're a pastor? Yeah, that would be great. I need some help."

So began my conversation with my new friend, Jesse. As we talked about the Bible, his thoughts soon took a more personal turn. Jesse told me about some of the ugliness and hurt that he had experienced as a child. Soon his story segued to more recent times and his painful losses to death and divorce. Now he is a part-time father of three, 14, 13, and 10, and trying to do right by his children.

Jesse told me how just a few months before he had a strong sense that he needed to find a church and read the Bible and find out what faith was all about. He started attending a Four Square Gospel Church and his kids were going with him. He said the worship was so real and relevant and moving that sometimes the tears would flow and he couldn't help it. But this reading the Bible thing was tougher than he imagined.

So, for another hour or so, Jesse and I opened the Bible together and I walked him through a little background and helped him find a plan to read that would help open his heart instead of cloud his mind. He had lots of questions. I marked some special things for him, some scripture that might speak to his situation. I told Jesse how obvious it seemed to me that God was doing a wonderful new thing in his life, that it was God who put that spiritual hunger and desire in his heart, and that God would help him become the kind of man and the kind of dad that he wanted to be.

Jesse said thoughtfully, "You know, I believe that. And God sent me a pastor today."

"I guess He did."

After we landed I gave him my card and said, "This has my email on it. It comes straight to my desk. If you have any questions or anything you want to talk about, you just call or shoot me a line. I'll be glad to hear from you, and I'll help you anyway I can."

"Thanks, Drew. You know, I don't believe in coincidences. Thank you for helping me out. I won't forget you."

"God bless you, Jesse. I know He will."

On the way to the baggage claim, I caught up with my family. "Rebecca, did you have a good flight?"

"Yes, Daddy. Thanks for letting me have your seat."

"That's okay, Sweetie. I was in the right seat. I was right where I was supposed to be."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oregon's Outdoor Cathedral

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. - Ephesians 3:17-18 NIV

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Good for the Soul

I'm taking a few days off to vacation with my family in Oregon, my first ever visit. What a spectacular place! I'll be posting a few pictures soon. My wife's parents are celebrating their 60th anniversary with a wonderful dinner here this evening. So, this is some pretty special family time. I'll be catching up with you soon.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The "Fear of God" Talk

I need your help, all you dads out there. My daughter is fifteen going on sixteen and has a boyfriend. Fortunately, he's a great kid and doesn't have his license yet, so they aren't really dating. He comes over to our house to watch movies, Rebecca goes over there to eat or play board games or cards. They've started sitting together in church. Once his dad dropped them off at this little Italian place for dinner and said to call when they were ready to go. They were done in 25 minutes. Sometimes I think they would rather text from a distance than have a real conversation. It's all innocent enough. But it's coming. I know it's coming. So, I'm trying to prepare for that "fear of God" talk I plan to have with any young man who has the nerve to date my daughter.

Somebody asked Charles Barkley what he was going to do now that his daughter was growing up and boys were going to be coming around wanting to date his daughter. His reply was classic. "I figure if I kill the first one, word will get around." Now I am not usually prone to violence, and angry threats don't come naturally to me. But this is my daughter, my princess.

Rebecca has a special ring tone on my cell phone. When she calls me it sounds like a royal trumpet fanfare, so that I know immediately the princess is calling. I'm okay with that, but I did have to remind her that there is only one way a little girl gets to be a princess - her dad has to be the king!

So, lately I've been collecting things to say, questions to ask, in my "fear of God" talk I am preparing. Here's what I have so far:
  • First, I want you to know, I got no problem going back to prison.
  • Do you understand that 11:00 is my daughter's curfew and your deadline?
  • Feel how sharp my old hunting knife is.
  • Did you hear about that other boy about your age who turned up missing and has never been found?
  • Are you familiar with the phrase "drawn and quartered"?
  • What bone in your body would you least want to have broken?
Then, here's a couple just for us pastor/dads:
  • Did you know God watches everything you do wherever you go? And, since I'm a pastor, God tells me whatever He sees.
  • If you were to die a sudden, violent death, is there anything special you would like for me to say at your funeral?
I know, it needs work. I'm just getting started. Help me out here, dads. Any suggestions from those who have been there and done that?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Thoughts on Independence Day

She's the USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, the oldest commissioned warship in the Navy. And, she's not a bad picture to capture our thoughts on the Fourth. The old ship has been meticulously preserved and maintained through the years since a famous poem and a bunch of determined school children rescued the never defeated warship from her demise and destruction. Today, only about eight percent of Old Ironsides is original. The rest of her is all exactly according to scale and specification, carefully replaced as necessary through the years. But to walk her decks today, she still looks ready for the high seas and ready for battle.

I'm not sure we have done as well preserving and maintaining our country, the nation the old ship defended so bravely. How close do we come today to the original, the specifications of our founders and builders? Are we still fitted out with the same ideals and dreams, or have we replaced the costly old values with cheaper, easier substitutes? I wonder. And as I take an honest look, I am fearful for the future of America. Outwardly powerful, inwardly decaying. Somebody better do something. Somebody should write a poem. Somebody needs to rebuild her.