Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking the Day Off

Friday is supposed to be my day off.

Except when I have a wedding or funeral or emergency.

In June, I had three weddings.  Three wedding rehearsals on Friday.

On the one weekend I did manage to have nothing scheduled (actually, I had a cancellation on a wedding), I ended up with two funerals.

Rest?  Recuperation?  What are those?

Enter scheduling days off during the week.

Today was one.

Houston Zoo with the kids.

A trip I had tried to take for over a month, but never could because of things popping up.

Part of my German work ethic says, "Tough it out.  Work your tail off.  It's your job."

But, the small portion of other ethnic blood which runs in my veins shouted just a little louder, "Take some time.  Be with your wife and kids.  You won't be able to do such things with them for long.  Before you blink, those kids won't want to do those things anymore."

Family time was and is precious.

I'm going to work extra hard to shove whatever guilty feelings I have aside.

Especially since my kids really love it when I take the day off.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Anniversary Surprise!

My wife generally hates surprises.  She likes things pretty well ordered; likes to know what is coming so she can plan  for it; and likes to plan responses for things before they happen.  It's just the way she is, and I've taught myself to live with it since there is a part of me that tends to be very spontaneous, playful, and surprising.  Generally, I don't try to spring things on my wife at the last minute or do things to purposely surprise her.

I said generally.  I do make exceptions.

This year, we are celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary.  I'm a guy who likes to celebrate the "fives".  For our fifth anniversary, I booked us a room in the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in San Antonio, and we went and saw the musical/dance group Stomp.  For our 10th anniversary, we spent several days in Galveston going to Moody Gardens and the beach.  For our 15th we had planned a trip to take our kids to Disney World in Florida.  Well, those plans were scrapped when our youngest was born.  We are going to wait until he's a little older and can enjoy the trip more.

So, now that those plans had been scrapped, I was in a pickle wondering how I'd do something memorable to mark the 15th.  I decided to go for the gusto even if it risked upsetting my wife; I decided to surprise her with a vacation cruise.

Six months ago, I began working with my travel agents who are also members of my congregation.  DJ and Camille Cramer are two awesome people and excellent travel agents who run Ahoy and Sail Away out of their home here in Cat Spring.  They helped keep this thing a surprise from the get go.

For cost purposes, we scheduled the trip in October--a big shout out to my parents who were also in on the surprise as they graciously decided to care for our kids while we were gone.  Then the waiting began.  Six months of it.  Do you know how hard it is to keep a secret from your spouse for six months?

I decided to tell as few people as possible.  The only folks who knew were myself, the Cramers, my parents, and my church secretary.  (Hey, I had to inform her because of scheduling it on the church calendar!)  My philosophy: the fewer who know, the less chance someone will spill the beans.

Then, I began coming up with an excuse to spring the surprise on her.  I invited family to come to Cat Spring to celebrate the anniversary.  I coached it as a "Thank you for putting up with me for 15 years party!" for my wife.  This gave her something to focus on as our anniversary approached.  I was hoping she'd be overwhelmed with the details of the party as it was approaching and miss any offhand comments I might make.  (There were one or two, but thankfully, they did no damage to the surprise.)

On the day of the party, we were laying out lunch, and I was thanking everyone for coming, and DJ and Camille walked in with a bucket full of goods.  My wife knew something was up right then, but she still didn't expect it when they handed her a card with the cruise date on it.  She was absolutely speechless!

She managed to walk around the rest of the day with that "I can't believe this" look on her face.  It was priceless.  Oh, and the best part about it--I didn't get in trouble for it.  I think she actually can acknowledge now that some surprises are worth it!

Wonder if I can come up with another one someday?

Happy Anniversary, Hon!  Look forward to another 15 years at the very least!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sermon Delivered June 26, 2011: 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Anyone sitting here this morning ever play sports? I guess that was a silly question, there are a whole lot of hands being raised all of a sudden. O.K. So, let me ask this question of those of you who have played sports: how many of you ever had a coach? Nearly everyone who played sports. What do coaches do?

(give a few moments to allow responses)

Yes, coaches motivate us, they help us learn the different techniques on how to do things, and they push us to reach our potential. They work to craft their teams and their players into the best sportsmen and women they can possibly be. That’s the role of coaches.

So, let me ask this question of you this morning: what happens if you don’t listen to your coach?

(Give a few moments to allow responses.)

Yeah, the most obvious answer is, you get benched. You don’t play. If you are not going to listen to your coach or give effort, you won’t play. That is, unless you are a professional sports team. Then, apparently, if you don’t listen to your coach or play for him or her, you can get your coach fired and persuade the owner of the team to get a new one. Hello, Dallas Cowboys last year.

Now, I am going to pick on my ‘boys just a little bit. I wasn’t very happy with them last year when they basically laid down and refused to give very much effort for Wade Philips. You could see it in their eyes and in their faces that they were refusing to listen to or respect their coach. You could see they didn’t really care what he said or how he tried to motivate them. They just flat out refused to listen to him. And, of course, Philips couldn’t bench the entire team. Well, I guess he theoretically could have, but that would have meant forfeiting a game or two, and we all know the millions of dollars that hinge on such games. So, in this case the coach was rejected.

Many fans were calling for Wade Philips’ head, but not me. I personally was disappointed in the players. I was disappointed that as professionals who were sworn to give their best for the team and their coach, they just flat out quit. I am still a Cowboys fan, but the players’ willingness to quit on their coach and refuse to listen to him tarnished their image, at least in my mind. They tarnished the image of the entire team and organization by their refusal to listen to the coach.

Now, what in the world does this have to do with Christianity? What does this have to do with our walk with Jesus Christ? What does this have to do with how we live out this faith of ours in our daily lives?
Well, my brothers and sisters, take just a moment to look once again at our second lesson from the book of Romans. St. Paul writes these words, "12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness."

Let’s break this down for a minute. Paul has just finished explaining to the folks in Rome that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Now, I know not a single person here this morning will argue with this–unless you just want to flat out argue with Scripture. Undeniably, our salvation comes from God and God alone. Salvation comes through Christ and Christ alone. We know this. As Lutherans, we breathe this as we breathe the air itself.

Ah, but what are the consequences to such belief? If there is nothing we can do to earn salvation, should we do anything? That is now the rub. If our salvation is based not upon our work but any free gift, our works do not matter be they good or bad, correct? If they are good, well, then they are good. But if they are bad, then we can simply ask for forgiveness, and all is clear. We don’t have to worry about pursuing a life filled with the work of following the law, correct?

Paul argues quite the contrary. "Look," he says, "if you say that you are obedient unto God, this means you follow God. If you say you are obedient unto Christ, this means you follow Christ. If you decide to commit sin because it’s something you choose to do, you are not being obedient to Christ. You are not following Him, you are following yourself. You are following your own wishes, your own desires. Or you are following sin itself. You aren’t listening to the one who called you. You are listening to something or someone else. Don’t be foolish. If you say you are going to be a Christian, you are no longer following yourself; you are no longer following sin; you are following Jesus Christ and all the things He teaches His followers to do." This is what Paul means when he says we are slaves to righteousness.

Let’s return to that coaching analogy which I began this sermon with. As Christians, we have acknowledged that our Coach is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have acknowledged our desire to play in the game of life with them teaching us and equipping us and leading us and guiding us in how things are done. It is with their guidance that we believe we will finally triumph, and, might I add, have the most fulfillment in playing the game. So, the question comes down to you and me, do we listen to the instructions of our Coach? Are we obedient to what our Coach teaches–to paraphrase Paul?

When Jesus tells his followers, "Go make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you," do we listen? Or do we listen to the smaller coaches of the world say that this might offend someone? When Jesus says, "Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned because when you do these things you are feeding and clothing and visiting me," do we listen? Or do we hear those lesser coaches saying, "Money is tight. Get everything for yourself. Look out for number one."? When Jesus says, "If you want to be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me," do we heed his words? Or do we listen to those lesser voices which say, "Just call yourself a Christian, it doesn’t mean any sort of sacrifice or pain on your part. It’s an easy life."? To whom do we listen, and what are the consequences if we don’t listen?

What happens if we don’t listen to our Coach? Well, we do know He won’t take us out of the game. Life will continue to go on, but will we find fulfillment in it? Will we find joy? Will we find peace? Will we find happiness? Will we find contentment? If we do not listen to the voice of our Coach will we be able to navigate the confusing, often treacherous courses in the race of life, or will we flounder as we seek to satisfy ourselves with stuff that only leaves us more and more hungry?

Oh, and what about the reflection we leave upon our Coach? If we refuse to listen to Him, if we refuse to play the game as He instructs, what does that say to others about how good our Coach is? Dare we reflect upon Him in this manner? Or do we go out there and bust our tail ends because we love, respect, and admire our Coach? Do we head into life knowing we may not win everything, but our Coach will indeed lead us to final victory? Do we trust our Coach enough to wager our life on His wisdom and might? Where does your obedience lie? With sin or with righteousness? The choice is yours. Amen.

And We Wonder Why...

Once a month, I receive The Lutheran magazine.  This is the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America of which my congregation is a part.

It usually takes me several days to read it, not because I couldn't do it in a matter of minutes, but because it usually disappoints me greatly to read its general focus and point of view. 

That statement might qualify as too much information, but I'm setting this up.  Bear with me.

For the past several days, I've been perusing the articles, and then this morning at breakfast, I turned to the magazine's summary of the synod assemblies held throughout the church.  The major decisions of these assemblies were being highlighted, and there were three recurring themes:

1. Eradicate, alleviate, and increase giving toward hunger.
2. Increase giving to malaria initiatives.
3. Appeal to the church to address bullying in society.

When I finished reading the summaries, I paused.  Not one time did I read the word evangelism.  The word appeared exactly zero times by my count.  Nada.  Nil.  And I thought to myself, "Can this be real?"

Now, don't get me wrong.  I have no issues in seeking to alleviate the suffering caused by hunger.  But until we realize we don't have a food problem, we have a distribution problem.  We will make little to no headway.

I've got no problem seeking to help the people throughout the world deal with malaria.

And I don't have a problem speaking out against bullying.  However, I still reserve the right to teach my children to punch a bully in the mouth or nose to end the bullying even though it's more politically correct to tell them, "Go tell the teacher/authorities/police/whoever."  I'm still a big fan of taking care of things yourself and empowering my kids to stand on their own two feet against those who might try to run roughshod over them.

These initiatives are all well and good, but where is the focus on Christ's command to make disciples of all nations?  Where is the focus on Christ's admonition to be His witnesses to "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth?

Why is such a thing important?  Why should proclaiming the good news and inviting others to become disicples of Jesus be front and center in the Church's job description?

One cannot deal with the underlying causes of bullying and hunger and malaria, etc. without dealing with the root causes of such phenomena.  One cannot begin to address such things if one's basic understanding of sin and human nature is not addressed.  The Church cannot begin to change the world unless individual lives are first changed.

Again, as I said earlier, the amount of food and money in the hunger issue is not a problem.  We produce plenty of food to feed the globe.  Get rid of ethanol mandates, and we've got even more to go around to feed the population and have surplus many times over.  But tell that to the U.S. government which mandates our food be used for fuel.  Tell that to the third world dictator who refuses to let food shipments enter into his country to feed the population.  Tell that to investors who artifically drive up the cost of food to make a fast buck.  See the problem?  It's a heart condition.

Same can be said of bullying.  Bullies prey on those who come across as weak.  Parents do not place boundaries on some of these children, so they feel entitled to do whatever it is that pleases them.  Discipline?  What is discipline?  Just what exactly is speaking out against bullying going to accomplish?  Hell, my daughter's elementary school had all sorts of bullying initiatives going on throughout the year, and it didn't stop one little boy from continuing to dump sand in my daughter's hair on an almost daily basis for a week.  My daughter repeatedly told the teachers upon our instruction.  And after we contacted the teacher ourselves, it finally stopped.  We were one day away from my daughter having to go to the principal's office for defending herself.  Who was the one with the problem here?  My daughter?  The school?  Or the little kid who continued to dump sand on my daughter because he thought it was fun?  (And yes, I learned enough about this kid's family to know there were some major issues there.)  Again, a heart problem.

When will we learn that in order to impact the world around us, we cannot change the world?  When will we learn our hearts must change first?  When will we learn the need to confront our sinful selves with the life changing news that Jesus died for us when we were still sinners?  When will we learn the need to reach out to others with this news as well? 

We wonder why our churches are in decline. 

Take a read at the summaries of the synod assemblies of the ELCA.  Count the number of times you see the word evangelism, and you will have your answer.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Looks Like I Made Someone Twitchy

Story Here:

My response:

I would like to begin by thanking John Kellum for responding to my article "Here Comes Another Texas Land Grab." Open and honest debate is indeed part of the process which makes our country and our state a great place.

As I read his article, it became apparent to me that Mr. Kellum and I are speaking at two different frequencies. Most of his article centers on CenterPoint’s fulfilling of the law governing such projects. My article focused upon the ethics of such projects. CenterPoint is indeed fulfilling the legal requirements of putting together its desire to build this transmission line, but the real deep down question is: is this project ethical?

I would argue such a project would indeed be ethical if CenterPoint could prove there is a definite need for electrical power for the city of Houston. Can this be shown?

The review documents submitted to ERCOT’s meeting on August 17, 2010 state, "It should be noted that the need to add additional import capacity into the Houston area was not considered to be necessary to meet reliability criteria in the timeframe of this analysis (2014) since the load in the area could reliably be served by generation in the Houston area and the existing import capacity."

The same document states there MAY be a need for further power in 2018. However, this is not based upon hard data, but assumptions regarding growth.

Therefore, we can conclude there is no immediate need for extra power for quite some time.

Mr. Kellum would like to tie the rolling blackouts the state experienced in the winter of this year to this project. He seems to indicate the cause of the blackouts came from an inability to move electricity from where it was generated to where it was needed. Yet, on the Chronicle’s own website


and according to Reuter’s


 the blackouts were not caused by an inability to get electricity from one place to another. They were caused by a disruption of production which was concurrent with a spike in need. Simply put, the grid was more than capable of getting the juice where it needed to go–there just wasn’t enough juice being produced. I don’t know if Mr. Kellum intentionally left this important piece of information out of his article, but I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Thus, we can see from these two parts of the puzzle, there is no reliability issue with either power generation or the grid. So, what is the justification for this project given by CenterPoint and endorsed by ERCOT?

As I stated in my first article, cost savings. Again to quote the review, "For this reason each of the project alternatives were evaluated on economic criteria based on the ERCOT RPG Planning Charter and Procedures in order to evaluate each project’s ability to reliably serve the load at an overall lower cost."

That’s correct, cost savings alone. There is no other justification. Unfortunately, Mr. Kellum does not rebut any of my arguments regarding whether or not cost savings is enough to ethically justify building these lines. Perhaps in his next article.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Protecting Our Neighbor's Property

I sometimes admire those for whom decisions are cut and dried.  There is a part of me which is very envious of those who can look at a given situation and decide what is right, what is wrong and have no war of conscience within themselves after making their diagnosis.

There are times when I wish I could function in this manner, which is why there are moments when I admire those who can look at the world this way.  I just happen to function in a different manner.  Because of the way I have been raised and the way I am put together, I usually can see things in myriads of ways.  I can take an argument and build a case from either perspective with relative ease.  This means I tend to see things very much in shades of gray, and, perhaps the most troubling for me, I realize I oftentimes make my decisions and my judgements without all of the relevant facts.

This is one of the reasons I flat out usually refuse to engage in political debate.  I know my ignorance.  I know I don't have all the facts, and I do not feel many of the sources which are around these days are reliable.  I personally believe many of the sources available whether in print or online only share the information they would like us to have instead of the whole picture.

Which makes it frustrating for someone like myself who likes to get the whole perspective before jumping into the fray.  I like to have all my ducks in a row before I begin offering my two cents on a given topic.  And if I enter into such a discussion or debate without having all the facts, I will wrestle with myself wondering if I have done the right thing or not.

Part of me was still doing this in regards to my jumping into the fray over CenterPoint Energy's decision to run power lines through Austin and the surrounding counties.  Honestly, I really had no reason to jump into the fray.  I own property in Bellville, and it would not be affected.  Neither would any of the proposed routes affect the church property at which I serve.  People need electricity, and they like paying less for it.  If I were to enter into this discussion, I could potentially set myself up for quite a bit of criticism.

Furthermore, it is my job to point the way to Jesus Christ as a leader in His Church.  I must be cognitively aware that when I take a stance on any particular issue, it will potentially alienate someone.  I certainly do not want to damage anyone's relationship with Christ based upon a particular stance I have taken in a controversial issue.  I must allow people to make their own decisions without compelling them to change their minds.

For instance, what if I have CenterPoint employees in my congregation who fully support what their employer is doing in wanting to build these power lines?  What if there are managers and others who have spearheaded this project and put hours of time and energy into them?  What if they read my blogs and my article in the Houston Chronicle, and they become not only angry at me but angry at the church and at God because of my actions?  Is this what I am called to do as a pastor?

Some wouldn't give a second thought to such matters, but I do.  I want to build up the Church and build up peoples' faith.  I do not wish to harm it.

Yet, I cannot help but hold onto my deep conviction that Christianity is not simply a belief in Christ--becoming a Christian not only means you believe in Christ, but you seek to live a life worthy of that calling. 

And it was in that spirit which I began thinking about my foray into this debate which affects many of my congregation members  AND many of my neighbors.  As this issue simmered in my brain cells, my thoughts turned to Luther's explanation of the ninth commandment:

The Ninth Commandment.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.

What does this mean?--Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, and obtain it by a show of [justice and] right, etc., but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

Not only are we supposed to not to craftily get our neighbor's house or inheritance (property could also be used here which paints CenterPoint's actions as completely un-Christian), but we are to be of help and service to him in keeping it

This means, in no uncertain terms, it is my job to help my neighbor keep his property.  It is the Christian thing to do.  While other denominations may not share this particular viewpoint, I wonder how many of my Lutheran colleagues are speaking out against CenterPoint's actions?  Are they also voicing their opposition to their neighbor's property being threatened? 

For I have become convinced that at least all Lutheran's should be moving to help their neighbors in this cause right now.  We are called to help protect our neighbor's property.  For me, there is no longer any confusion, and readers will have to bear with me as I continue to voice my opposition to this project. 

I will continue to seek to help my neighbor.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sermon Delivered June 19, 2011: Trinity Sunday

Don’t you love it when people ask you questions you don’t know the answer to? I’m sure most of us here in this room have been asked at least one question in our lifetime that we have found ourselves hemming and hawing over–trying desperately to come up with something that shows we have at least a modicum of intelligence.

Those of us who are parents know this feeling all too well. Our kids seem to ask incessant questions. First it begins with the dreaded "Why?" and then it moves into a bit more difficult areas. I mean, when your kid asks you, "Why is the sky blue?" You can’t simply retort, "Because I said so." That doesn’t make much sense to kids. So, we adults are left with trying to come up with reasons and explanations, and if we don’t know the answer, sometimes we make it up.

That’s one of the reasons I like the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbs." Some of you may remember this comic strip from years ago. I grew up reading it in the Corpus Christi Caller Times, and I always looked forward to see what kind of stunts the little guy in the strip was going to pull off. Sometimes, Calvin would ask his dad a question, and you have two such instances in the insert in your bulletin today.

Please take a moment to look at the first comic strip with Calvin asking, "Why does the sun set?"

Dad looks at him and says, "It’s because hot air rises. The sun’s hot in the middle of the day so it rises in the sky. In the evening then, it cools down and sets."

Calvin asks, "Why does it go from East to West?"

Dad replies, "Solar wind."

Mom chimes in, "DEAR!"

For a kid, this explanation works, and he or she understands it. Never mind that it’s a complete lie. For the time being, the kid is satisfied and has an answer, and the adult is satisfied because the kid has stopped asking at least one question.

But is that such a good idea? Is handling tough questions, or questions we don’t have answers too in this manner the right thing to do? I’m not so sure.

You can believe me if you choose, but I’m someone who deals with a lot of tough questions. The questions I get from people are not quite as simple as why is the sky blue or why does the sun set. I know the scientific explanations of these things, and I think I can explain them to my kids in a way they can understand. If only these were the questions I was asked. Instead, I get asked things like, "Why did my loved one have to suffer and die from cancer?" I get asked, "Why did our child die in utero? Why can’t we be blessed with children?" I get asked, "Why isn’t God letting it rain?" I get asked, "How come the church doesn’t follow the Bible?" I get asked, "Why doesn’t God just give irrefutable evidence that He exists?" I get asked, "I know we are saved by grace, but isn’t there something we still have to do in our Christian faith? Aren’t works a part of our lives? And aren’t we judged by those works?" And I get asked, "How does this Trinity thing work? How can God be both one in three and three in one?"

The temptation is to come up with answers. The temptation is to come across definitive and authoritative. The temptation is to make something up and hope that no one will check your references and see that you really haven’t figured it out. The temptation is to come up with a well used, well worn cliche which satisfies for the time but leads to frustrating questions later on.

And that can be a really tough thing to deal with later, for if the answers you provide come under scrutiny, your trust level can be called into question. For instance, what is going to happen to Calvin’s trust of his father when he eventually finds out the earth revolves around the sun and while revolving the earth spins? What is going to happen when he finds out this is the reason the sun rises and sets and moves from East to West? What is Calvin going to do when he finds out his dad made stuff up? Will he be able to take his dad seriously? Will he have trust in his father as time passes?

The same questions can be asked of me or any other person of faith when wrestling with those big questions I asked earlier. Let’s just take one example. How do you deal with parents who have lost a child–either still born, a terminated pregnancy, or miscarriage, or premature death? Do you try to give a perfect explanation? Do you try to tell the parents, "It’s God’s will."? That’s one of those cliche answers. Not sure it satisfies a grieving parent’s heart in the least. In fact, if someone told me that one of my children died because it was God’s will, I wouldn’t think to highly of a God who wanted to take my child away from me. Same goes for those other sayings like, "God needed the kid more than you. Or God needed another angel in heaven?" Really, God needed this child more than me? I thought God had legions of angels, why did He need one more? Can you see how such answers can lead not only to some even more difficult questions, but they can also lead to making people angry with God when they need God’s embrace and comfort more than ever?
So what do we do with those big questions? How do we even go about trying to answer them? What if...just what if...we recognized we are limited from the get go? What if...just what if...we admitted we didn’t have all the answers?

Take a moment to look at that second comic strip from "Calvin and Hobbs" that’s in your bulletin this morning. Perhaps we can get a little bit of knowledge from it.

Calvin asks, "How do they know the load limit on bridges, Dad?"

Dad says, "They drive bigger and bigger trucks over the bridge until it breaks. Then they weigh the last truck
and rebuild the bridge."

Calvin says, "Oh. I should have guessed."

Mom says, "Dear, if you don’t know the answer, just tell him."

If you don’t know the answer, just tell him.

What is wrong with the words, "I don’t know."? For some reason, it seems some people have a problem with these words. For some reason, it seems some people want to have every single I dotted and every single T crossed in their lives. They seem to be uncomfortable with mystery, with hanging endings, and with a lack of knowledge and understanding. Such people want everything tied up in nice, neat little packages, or they want to come across as knowing anything and everything.

But the fact of life is, we don’t know everything. We don’t understand everything. There are parts of our lives that are and will remain a mystery until the day that we die. St. Paul puts it this way in the middle of 1 Corinthians chapter 13. This is that great chapter about love that couples want read at their weddings time and time again. But there are a few very important verses that Paul pens right in the middle. Beginning in verse 9, they read, "9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Now, we see in a mirror dimly. We cannot see clearly. Our vision is blurred. Our scope, our perspective is limited. Why do we have such a problem with that? Why are we so uncomfortable with mystery? Why can’t we admit we don’t have the answers now, but one day things will become clear?

Today, my brothers and sisters in the faith, is Trinity Sunday. It’s the one Sunday of the church year where we take some time to remember that our God has been revealed to us as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In some ways it sounds like we have three God’s, but we don’t. We only have one. And even though we say we have one God, we also say that this God is revealed as three persons. For centuries, folks have tried to explain how it works–how this can even be possible. But all explanations have fallen short.

So, let’s not even try to explain it fully. Let’s admit our limitations, not only in understanding the Trinity, but in understanding the totality of life. Sometimes we are surrounded by mystery. And that is perfectly O.K. We don’t need to have all the answers. We can live with the mystery. We can live seeing dimly. We can live by saying, "I don’t know how it works. It just does." And that answer can be good enough. Amen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking on CenterPoint: A Matter of Ethics

This past Sunday, my blog post: "An Open Letter to All Texans" was reprinted in the Houston Chronicle under the headline: "Looks Like Another Texas Landgrab."

The internet version did illicit a few comments, a few negative, and a few positive.

Interestingly enough a couple of negative comments chastised me for addressing this issue out of ignorance and that I should be ashamed for doing so.  Well, perhaps these folks are correct in assessing that I do not know all of the the legalities of such moves by the State and by corporations, although I do have a rudimentary understanding of such things.  But to yours truly, it isn't just a matter of the legalities.

For you see, there are a couple of other things that I do know:

1. I do know the city of Houston does not need extra power at this time.  They are doing quite well and projections do not show them falling short of their needed electric power for quite some time.

2.  This means CenterPoint must come up with some other justification for this project.  They WANT these lines.  They do not NEED them.

3.  Their justification is to save their customers (*cough, cough* and increase their profits *cough, cough*.  Sorry, I had something stuck in my virtual throat.) money by condemning the land of other Texans and getting right of way through it and building these power lines.

When a company or entity moves from a need to want, it crosses out of the realm of pure legalities and into the realm of ethics.  And I believe I know a thing or two about ethics--at least theoretically.  Perhaps after reading you might agree.  I'm O.K. if you don't.

Basically, ethics is done by folks in one of two ways.   

The first way of doing ethics is to judge something by its impact.  Generally, this mode is explained by doing the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people, or utilitarianism.  For instance, if the city of Houston was having rolling blackouts every day and the production of goods and services were being stymied, including the production of oil, gas, plastics, etc. and the blackouts would be ended by building a power line through people's land, then there is a good case to argue the ethics of building such a power line through the method of utilitarianism.

But, there is a huge downside to utilitarianism.  What protection does it afford for the minority?  Let's use a time tested example of a misuse of utilitarianism: slavery.  One could easily argue that during the early years of our country, slavery was ethical due to utilitarianism.  The greater good; the U.S. and southern economy was able to thrive because of the non-existent cost of labor.  Many people's lives were enhanced at the cost of the few.  Yet, does anyone really want to defend slavery?

I don't.  Because there is another ethical framework to work out of.  Basically, in this framework, one appeals to a greater law or principle that governs how we are supposed to live.  Such ethics are called deontological.

In the case of slavery, an appeal is made to the statement in the Declaration of Independence that, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."  Slavery's utilitarian justification falls flat on its face in light of this deontological truth.  If all men are created equal, then no man should own another man or force him to engage in something forcefully.

Which now brings us to CenterPoint.  In the absence of a glaring NEED which allows the ethics of utilitarianism to be put into use, one therefore falls back onto deontological ethics.  Property owners have rights regarding the use of their land.  If they do not wish to sell it or give it up, they should not be forced to do so by an entity because that entity is larger than they are, represents more people than they do, or has more money and influence than they do.  The ethics are absolutely clear on this one.

It is the job of the state, the government, to protect the rights of its people.  In this case, the government should side with the people whose land is threatened because of no provable NEED in the case of CenterPoint Energy.  While profit margins and cost savings are important, they do not negate the rights of individuals.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Question the Basic Assumptions

I remember well attending college and hearing professor after professor say, "Question everything you've been taught."

It was pretty solid advice; however, as time has passed, I have come to realize what these professors were actually saying was, "Question everything you've been taught, but don't question what I am teaching you now."

Honestly, I don't believe those of us who teach at any time really and truly want those we teach questioning the things we say.  I want folks to think I'm smart.  I want folks to think I'm intelligent.  I want folks to think I have got it all figured out.  If they'd only listen to me, then everything will work out.

I know in my saner moments those last two statement are insanity.  The first couple are still up for grabs. 

What I also have come to know is the difficulty of questioning everything, even the basic assumptions one takes for granted.

For instance, last week I became involved in a quite heated discussion in a clergy only group on Facebook.  We were discussing an aspect of clergy ministry which has almost become dogmatic in its application:

When a pastor leaves a congregation, he/she should not perform any sort of pastoral act what-so-ever. He/she needs to let the congregation know the new clergy is now the pastor.  You are no longer the pastor.

Some have even added a "Thou shalt not have any contact with anyone from a previous parish." clause as well.

Unintentionally, I found myself on the other side of the issue.  Because of my inability at the time to articulate clearly what I was trying to get across, I found myself questioning this basic assumption of how ministry is supposed to be done.  I found myself questioning something that I personally had adhered to when leaving my previous congregation and beginning in my new one.  After all, my professors in seminary drilled this command in my head as a boundary which should not be crossed.

But the more I found myself questioning the status quo, the more I found myself uncomfortable with what I had been taught.  The more I began thinking this hard and fast rule might actually be doing more damage than it is doing good.

Suddenly, it was literally as if a light bulb burst in my brain.  "So this is what it's really like to question everything," I thought. 

For this post, I will not go into the dirty details on my thoughts regarding this issue.  I'm going to save that for later.  I need to do some more work on it including consulting with a trusted advisor in such matters.  I need to get my thoughts organized and on paper as I continue wrestling with it.

What I can say right now is such questioning leads to some startling revelations about one's self.  At least they do for me. 

I particularly have to stop and ask myself, "What other basic assumptions do I hold onto that I have not diligently questioned?  What other beliefs do I hold about doing the job I am doing or parenting in the manner I parent which I have failed to put under scrutiny?"

At one in the same time, it is both liberating and frightening.

As it should be.

One could always find that one's foundation is shaky.

We'll see.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Tribute to Dad

There were times in my growing up years that I wasn't too fond of my dad.

He and I share a strain of stubbornness which has been deeply embedded in the Haug family for generations.  This strain does lead to confrontation at times. 

But what I have also discovered is there is a strain of patience as well--a strain that waits and endures as stubbornness eventually turns into admiration.

There were many things my dad did that annoyed me as a kid:

1. I didn't like him dragging me away those summer days to work in the cotton patch and grain fields.
2. I didn't appreciate him tearing me away from my basketball hoop to mow the lawn.
3. I didn't want to watch him change the oil, or fix anything automotive for that matter.
4. I didn't want to spend time planting in the garden, harvesting vegetables, or processing those vegetables.  I just wanted to eat them.
5. I didn't like it when he kept telling me I needed to try those foods I didn't think tasted particularly good.
6. I was embarrassed when he acted goofy and playful with other adults and kids.  Did he have to pretend like he was going to run into somebody with the car?  Did he have to make those jokes?  Did he have to laugh like that?
7. I was angry that he didn't buy a cooler car for me to drive around in.

But, looking back, I know my father's wisdom.  Want a story to illustrate it?  (Too bad if you don't.  I'm telling it anyway.)

One day, he and I set out to repair a lawnmower which was not running optimally.  We were dismantling it when we came to a particularly stubborn bolt.  I was wrenching it all different sorts of ways trying to manhandle it.  Dad waited a few moments and then said, "Kevin, let me tell you how to get that off."

I smarted off saying something like, "Why can't I do it this way?"  (There's that stubborn streak I talked about earlier.)

Dad didn't force me to change what I was doing.  He didn't get angry or frustrated.  He just said, "I'm going to go do some work.  You keep working at that thing, and when you get tired, you come get me."

At that point, I was bound and determined to get the bolt loose.  "I'll be d@mned if I let him win on this one," I told myself.

About an hour later, I was ready to admit defeat.  I couldn't get the bolt loose.  I was tiring, and even though I considered myself strong and intelligent and able to do things my way, I found myself at a loss.  I reluctantly went and got my father.

Dad talked me through a couple of steps and in less than a minute, the bolt was loose, and we were able to continue fixing the lawn mower.

But more than that lawnmower was fixed that day.  A bit of that stubbornness went out of yours truly because I learned that I had much to learn.  I learned my father had much to teach.  The process of admiration and respect took even deeper root than I would have thought.

My Dad was pretty wise.  Let me figure it out on my own.  Let me admit defeat.  Teach me a lesson in humility.  Important stuff. 

Now, as I look back at all that stuff I was annoyed at, I realize my Dad's purpose in all of it.  He was being a master craftsman working to build his little boy, his growing son, his arrogant teen, and his maturing youth into a man--a  man who would one day have a family of his own; a man who would need to learn responsibility, humor, hard work, and a willingness to try different things so that he could provide for and take care of his wife and children.

I understand now, Dad.  Thanks for putting up with me during those  years and being patient.  I hope you can see your efforts have paid off.  Because I'm trying to instill those same values you instilled into me into my own children. 

You and mom mean a ton to me, but today is your day, Dad.  Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Honesty Versus Expectations: Weiner Follow Up

After my post the other day on Rep. Weiner's debacle, one of my friends posted the following in my Facebook comments:

I knew you were a brave man, but broaching this topic makes you braver or crazy. Not sure which...

I responded, "Maybe a little bit of both."

But I did some thinking about my friend's comment.  Some serious thinking, and I began to wonder why saying the things I said in my blog would be considered crazy.  And I wondered if it was because I was willing to "tell it like it is" to be brutally honest about the way the majority of men function.

Believe me, I know the way men are expected to be.  An entire culture has sprung up which reacted against the macho, male dominated cultures of the past where women were objects to be seen and not heard, and where they were supposed to remain at home: barefoot, pregnant, and satisfied to do nothing more than watch the children and cook for their spouse.  Men were almost given free reign to do whatever they wanted, and that wasn't necessarily a good thing.  So, instead of the male domineering, macho type, men were coached to be more considerate, more loving, to get in touch with their feminine side.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is, I'm not feminine.  I am masculine.  There are small amounts of estrogen which flow through my body, but the overriding hormone is testosterone.  Period.  Can't change that.  At all.

Which means exactly what now a days?  Now, that's a tough question to answer.  Gender roles today are not so well defined.  I spoke a little bit about a time period not so long ago.  Perhaps the only good thing about this time was that gender roles were very defined.  Men knew their place, and women knew what they should be doing.  (I'm not saying the roles were good.  I am saying, folks understood them.)

That is a far cry from the way things are today in gender relations.  Men and women struggle with what is expected from them.  Many function in a great cloud of unknowing trying to figure out what they should or should not be doing.

For instance, I know of men who have positioned themselves to open a door for a woman only to be rebuked for their act of kindness/chivalry.  Yours truly continues to open doors in such a fashion, even though he has never personally suffered such a rebuke, and I wouldn't stop if someone did such a thing.  Such courtesy is deeply ingrained in me no matter the consequences.  But, for men who are more sensitive, they are left scratching their heads in bewilderment that their act of kindness receives a tongue lashing.

From the other perspective: my wife is happy to stay at home and raise our children.  Yet, there are those who tell her that she is unfulfilled and not reaching her potential by not working outside the home.  Really?  When we have visited about such things, she will often talk about how rewarding it is to stay with the kids, but she still feels that pull by those who criticize women who stay at home to care for their families.

This lack of definition in gender roles leads to all kinds of issues in marriage.  Oftentimes couples wed , and they each have expectations of the other.  Because there is no defined standard, the first year of marriage is often very, very troublesome as the couple works to define their expectations of how each is to function.  Many times such issues are never worked out, and the long term result is the big D (and I don't mean Dallas). 

Looking at the way the world functions, I don't think we will ever come back to the time where gender roles are fully defined by society.  There will be continued attempts, but I'm not sure they will ever be successful.  Instead, individual family units will have to work diligently to define those roles.

But here is where the sticky part comes in.  Most of the time, we are not satisfied to allow individuals to define their own roles.  We are not satisfied to allow men and women to define themselves and who they are.  Most of the time we want to tell others how they should act and what they should do.

"Get in touch with your feminine side!  Then you will be a real man!"


Here's a little secret: I'm not worried about my feminine side.  I'm perfectly happy being a man.  I'm perfectly happy taking responsibility for providing for my family and taking responsibility for my actions (BTW, I believe this is the sign of a real man.  Sexual conquests do not make anyone more masculine.  Neither do large muscles.  Neither do muscle cars, even though I own one.).  I'm perfectly happy treating women with respect and dignity.  I do not consider women the "weaker" sex by any extreme.  I consider women helpers and partners, and I try to allow each individual woman to define herself as she sees fit.  I do not put any expectations upon my wife to work or stay at home--that is her choice, and I am raising my daughters to be strong, competent little girls, young ladies, and women who will have the choice to decide what they want to do with life and who they want to be.  It is not my job to tell them what to become, but to give them the tools and then respect them enough when they make their own choices.

Biblically, my family adheres to the "man is the head of the house" stuff.  Yep, that Ephesians text does govern us.  You know, the one that drives some women absolutely nuts:

21Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 2324Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

This doesn't mean I dominate and tell my wife what to do.  Remember the writer here tells husbands to love their wives and to give themselves up for their wives as Christ gave himself up for the church.  This means, I do not make a single important decision without consulting my wife.  We're in this as a team, but the ultimate responsibility falls on my shoulders.  This also means I cherish her thoughts and hopes and desires.  I want what is best for her, and I can only know that by being in communication with her.  As she defines her hopes and wants and desires, I want to encourage her, help her achieve those things, and help her to be the person she feels God is calling her to be.  And if I have to, I will lay down my life for her, no questions asked.  Ephesians doesn't tell women to do that, only men.  Only men have a call to die for women, that's how much respect they are due. 

Now, I'm being brutally honest in how I view such matters.  I'm being brutally honest in how my wife and I define our relationship.  I'd bet a dollar to a hole in a donut it doesn't meet the expectations of some readers.  I'll bet a dollar to a hole in a donut there would be some who would read the above statements and think I am nothing more than a male, chauvinist pig.  Well, I respect your right to hold that sort of judgment upon me.  But I truly am not worried about it.  My family and I have hammered out our roles, and they have worked well for 15 years thus far.  We are committed to continue to make them work together, and they are up for negotiation if necessary.  This is our reality and it works, and we will take what works over anyone else's expectations.

That's the honest truth.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is It Reasonable to Believe in God? Part 2

One's basic premises guide any discussion regarding the reasonableness of believing in God.

The evidence can be read either way.

If you are sympathetic to belief in God, you will see the evidence pointing toward God.

If you are not sypathetic to belief in God, you will see the evidence in a very different way.

For instance:

If I place a chair in the middle of a room, I will look at it and say, "This is a chair."  There would be little dispute amongst my friends and family members or nearly anyone I know that this is a chair.

However, if someone wanted to be a smart alec about it, someone who is well versed in particle physics, he or she could say, "That's not a chair.  It's a bunch of atoms all vibrating at exactly the same frequency giving the appearance of a chair.  It's really a bunch of energy floating around in a bunch of other energy.  And your brain is sending energetic signals telling you there is a chair there, when in reality, there is only energy." 

Well, technically, this person is correct.  But there is still a darn chair in the room--even if it is made out of energy.  One's perspective changes how one sees the chair, but it does not change the reality that there is a chair there.

Well, what if the circumstance is somewhat different?  What if we are talking about the evidence for God?

As I stated yesterday, I do not believe the evidence is conclusive, but I think it leads a person to a reasonable belief there is a creator of the universe.  Why?

1. The chances are astronomically small that the universe works the way it works.  The odds are astronomically small that all the stuff lines up to have life as we know it as well.  Mathematically, chalking it up to chance is a cop out.

2. The universe has a beginning which begs the question, what made it begin?  Did it just happen?  I personally don't think it just happened.  I believe there is a cause.

3. If the universe is just a random occurance, is there any sort of purpose to it?  One would hope so.  And if there is a purpose to this universe, and to life at all, wouldn't we get clues as to what it is?  I think so, because the  uniqueness of the universe demands it.

4. Evolution doesn't look so random as it occurs.  Something seems to be driving it.  Most biologists acknowledge this.  Most of the adaptations that occur should take much more time than they do.  How do animals adapt and change so fast?  There seems to be a purpose behind it.  Again, not proof of God, but it makes it reasonable.

Most scientists who are open minded will tell you the evidence can point either way, and much of it depends upon your predisposition. 

As Christians, I believe we are predisposed to belief in God.  I believe His Holy Spirit moves to instill faith within us.  For the past several hundred years, such faith was seen by science as irrational, hokey, magical, and inferior since it was not based in rational thought.  There was a belief that science would lead us to a better world since science could measure and verify and remove the hokiness behind faith driven propositions. 

Science failed in this endeavor.  While it gave us tremendous technological skills and accomplishments, it did not manage to solve the greatest mysteries of our species: why are we here?  What is our purpose?  How do we get along with one another?  How do we overcome our selfish natures and begin to care about folks who are not members of our "tribe"?  How do we be good stewards of the earth? 

Science has a hard time giving answers to these questions.  In fact, some of the "answers" are pretty unreasonable.  (Take evolution and survival of the fittest to its logical conclusion with the very ill, very old, mentally challenged, etc.  See if you think such an approach to ethics is reasonable.)

When it comes to asking the big questions, faith certainly plays a huge role.  Disputing such a thing, I believe is intellectually dishonest.  Therefore, when seeking those kinds of answers, I believe faith is more than just faith.  It's perfectly reasonable.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is it Reasonable to Believe in God?

I suffered through philosophy during college.  Even took a philosophy of religion course.  Wrote a paper arguing for the existence of God.  Made an A on it.  Made an A in the class.  Realize now, I didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about.

Much of the reason why, I believe, is because my brain flatly wasn't mature enough to handle the concepts being put forth.  (I've learned quite a bit about brain maturity by studying Family System's Theory.  Our brains mature at different rates.  Apparently, mine has taken a while.)

Recently, I have delved into books which deal with philosophy and theology.  For some reason, my brain can handle this stuff now.  I actually get it, and it's opening up a whole new area for me in apologetics (defending and articulating the Christian faith.).  Whereas at one time I was overwhelmed by certain arguments, I now can see the flaws in those arguments and come back at them with my own.  Of course, many of my arguments have flaws as well, but one of these days...

One thing which has intrigued me recently is the argument for a reasonable belief in God.  Now, I personally do not believe there is an argument which proves the existence of God.  I believe we come to belief through faith and faith alone.  I don't think one can "measure" or offer any sort of scientific proof for the existence of God.

But I do think the evidence can lead us quite a way in that direction; hence the idea, belief in God is reasonable.  (I'm particularly indebted to Timothy Keller, Richard Neuhaus, John Polkinghorne, and Oz Guiness for directing my thoughts this way.)

The particular issue which has gotten my attention is the "Fine Tuning" of our universe.  Simply stated: our universe is marvelously put together.  There are some mathematical constants, which, if they were off just a hair's breath, would make it impossible for the universe to exist.  So how did our universe come to be so finely tuned?  How did this universe "beat the odds" and come to exist in such a way that life can actually come to thrive on this little planet in the midst of a very big cosmos?  Let me quote John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale's book Questions of Truth here:  "As Tony Hewish once remarked, the accuracy of just one of these parameters is comparable to getting the mix of flour and sugar right to within one grain of sugar in a cake ten times the mass of the sun."  (page 44) That's extremely fine tuning.

There are basically four possible conclusions one can make according to Polkinghorne and Beale (page 44 and 45):

1. This fine-tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but God has ensured in his loving wisdom that it is so, so that we can come into being.

2. This fine-tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but just by luck the one that exists is anthropic.

3. This fine-tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but there are such a vast number of other universes that it is not unlikely that at least one of them is anthropic.

4. There are as yet undiscovered reasons why this fine-tuning is not highly unlikely in a random possible universe.

Number one is a reasonable response based in faith.

Number two is basically a cop out.  I've seen such a rebuttal on the Wikipedia site regarding bridge playing.  It reads:

   An analogy from common experience where the odds can be readily calculated is given by John Allen Paulos in Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences (1989), that the probability of a very mundane event such as that of getting any particular hand of thirteen cards in a game of bridge is approximately one in 600 billion. It would be absurd to examine the hand carefully, calculate the odds, and then assert that it must not have been randomly dealt.

In some ways, the argument is accurate--if it applies to any ordinary hand.  But if a person were dealt all thirteen spades in said hand--a perfect hand, so to speak, then the questioning must surely begin.  Oh, and the mathematical odds that Paulos is describing are far too small to compare to the fine-tuning of our universe.  To get a comparable statistical analogy, it would be like getting two or three such perfect hands in a row.  As a card player, if I see someone get two such hands, I would personally believe the deck is stacked and had been put together by someone.

3. This option is purely based in faith as is option number one.  One cannot measure other universes.  One can only conceive of them.  This response certainly isn't scientific by any extreme.  So which option is more reasonable, believing in a being that fine-tuned a universe that we humans can live in or believing in multiple universes that we cannot see, measure, or confirm by any means that we know of?

4. I'll let Polkinghorne have his two cents on this one again: "Option 4 might correspond to the idea that the true fundamental theory (unifying relativity and quantum theory) has no arbitrary constant.  This seems unlikely, and even if it were true, the fact that such abstract physical requirement let do anthropic fine-tuning is surely the most astonishing coincidence of all."  pg. 45.

Again, none of these things absolutely prove the existence of God, but can one deduce the existence of God from the evidence?

I personally think so.  Especially if you are open to different perspectives.  More on that later.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sermon Delivered June 12, 2011: Pentecost!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here because I heard there would be a fire breaking out in the church. I looked outside and didn’t see any smoke or anything, so I had to assume the fire hadn’t started yet. I’ve been doing some inspections around and haven’t seen any evidence where a fire might start either, so I am assuming someone is trying to start a fire here. My assumptions were confirmed when I read through that little thing y’all call a bulletin here. There’s a prayer in there that talks about kindling a fire. Further, I read a little bit about some folks who were playing with fire in one of those readings in there. Such things aren’t good folks. You all know our county is under a burn ban because of the current drought. Starting a fire now is very, very dangerous. The dry conditions could lead to a massive outbreak that would forever change the scope of our landscape around here. So, I am going to take some time this morning to give you a few lessons in fire safety and discourage you from starting such a fire.

I am sure that your parents taught nearly all of you that you shouldn’t play with fire. Why? Well, everyone knows when you play with fire, you will get burned. Some people get lucky and are burned just slightly with some skin irritation. There’s no lasting damage or change to them. They are fortunate because they can continue to go about their business without anyone noticing anything ever happened to them. Others aren’t quite as lucky. Sometimes they get burned rather badly, and there is severe skin irritation and blisters. You have to carefully manage such burns and care for them until they heal. If you aren’t careful, they can leave scars–evidence that you weren’t careful when dealing with fire. Finally, there are some very unfortunate folks who suffer third degree burns. Their skin is charred to a crisp. Scarring is permanent. They are forever changed by their dealings with fire. You don’t want this to happen. People look at you differently. Some might think you are strange. Others will shake their heads in pity.

Do you need an example? Well, let’s talk a moment about that little story in the bulletin that is marked with the words First Lesson. There was a story in there about some people who were touched by fire. Apparently, these folks were burned pretty badly because they started talking all kinds of gibberish to one another. They couldn’t even talk straight because of their experience with fire. I’m telling you, that’s a major danger sign right there. They ran out into the streets and started telling everyone about their experiences with this fire, and more and more people wanted to experience it too. Can’t you see the danger in playing with that fire so much? Can’t you see the danger in inviting others to reach out and touch this stuff that could burn them? I mean what would happen to them if they were marked for life by a severe burn?

You see, I know a few people who have been barely touched by this fire. They’ve felt the redness on their skin and in their hearts. It makes them very uncomfortable. They start realizing the implications that such fire has for their hearts and for their lives. It scares them. It makes them realize there is a huge change that will happen to them if the fire gets a hold of them. They are not sure they want this to happen. And so even though they’ve experienced this fire, they try to avoid it. They’ll even try to put it out whenever they come near it. They’ll talk badly about the fire and tell their friends and family to avoid it because of how it affects them. Stay free of the fire, they’ll tell you.

And then there are those who have handled the fire a little too much. They’ve been burned by it. They have blisters. In some ways they’ve enjoyed playing with the fire, but they only want to play with it on their terms. They don’t want anyone else to see what they are up to. So they hide the blisters. They cover up the redness. They don’t tell anyone about the fire they’ve seen and heard and touched. They keep coming back for more, but they walk away just as easy because they don’t want the fire to burn too deeply.

Finally, there are those who are consumed by this fire. These folks are scarred and marked permanently. You can see that they’ve played with fire, and their lives have been forever altered. You can see it in the things they do, the activities they are involved, and how they live their lives. They talk about their time spent with the fire; they talk about how it burned them; they talk about how it still affects them to this day. Strangely enough, which is hard for this fireman to understand, is that they have no regrets about being burned by the fire. In fact, they seem to encourage others to approach the fire and get burned themselves. They argue it’s a good thing that affected their lives in ways beyond comprehension. In some ways, I’d like to argue with them about this. But I can’t argue that their lives aren’t changed.

Believe me, I’d like to, but those who have been burned by this fire exhibit some very intriguing qualities. They are always ready to jump in and lend a hand to someone who is in need. I’ve seen a few give the shirt off their backs to help someone who is down on their luck or someone who is suffering from severe grief or depression. I’ve seen these folks dig deep into their pocketbooks to support causes throughout the world and in their communities. I’ve seen these folks walk with an air of humility even though they try to live exemplary lives. I’ve even seen these folks give up buying stuff they wanted to support local charities and such. Can you believe that? Most of them are always ready to stand up for those who don’t have a voice or have little power. They aren’t afraid to stick their necks out and risk it for people most of the society has written off. There really is something different about them. But, when I’ve talked to them about it, they tell me I have to get burned by the fire. I have to become scarred just like they are. I have to go through some pain as the fire touches me and works through me. They say it will make all the difference in the world.

Does that make sense to you? It absolutely floors me. I can’t believe that getting burned like that while intentionally playing with fire is a good thing. And here’s one other thing that blows my mind.

Sometimes a group of these people get together and they work to make this fire happen. They do all sorts of interesting things to promote this fire and see that it starts burning once again. They become passionate about it. They become worked to a point where they want the thing to erupt and consume entire communities.

Could you imagine that? Could you imagine an entire community touched and burned by such a thing? Could you imagine a whole community of people who carry the scars of being burned? Could you imagine an entire community of folks who do things differently, have a different idea of what is important in life, and who encourage others to become like them? Could you imagine a group of people who give of their time, of their ability, and of their money freely without worry so that a difference can be made?

I can’t conceive of such a thing. I mean, that might upset the whole way the world works. It might mean a totally new way of doing things and making things happen. It would be very, very dangerous to let such a thing happen. That’s why I am here to put out any fire that might get started. We can’t have that kind of change. We can’t have that kind of community. We can’t have that kind of church. Can we? Amen.

In Defense of Weiner

Bet that title caught your attention.

Now, before you read any further, please know this is no apologetic for Weiner's actions.  What he did was despicable.  There were two major betrayals that he committed: the betrayal of the sanctity of marriage and the betrayal of the public trust when he lied about his actions. 

Does he deserve to be criticized?  Yep.

Does he deserve to be raked over the coals?  Yep.

Does he deserve to lose his job over the escapade?  I can only say that if I were ever caught doing such a thing, I'd be removed from my position quickly and would not be allowed back until I received major amounts of counseling.

But does he deserve to have his head served on a platter?  Figuratively crucified for his actions?

I've got a problem with that.  I don't believe so.  His actions demand consequences, but I also believe we should be ready to forgive in a heartbeat. 

Why would I say such a thing about a man who did something like he did?

First, my faith.  Second, my gender.  My faith says, "Forgive."  My gender says, "I understand."

Let's start with the second and then work our way toward faith.

You see, I understand much of why Weiner did what he did when he involved himself with those women over the internet.  If you are a heterosexual man, the female form captures  your attention immediately and with regularity.  For some reason, God decided that we should be stimulated visually, and He also made the female form highly, highly attractive to us.

And yes, I know exactly what Jesus says in Matthew five: 27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Guilty as charged.  Don't know of a single heterosexual man who's escaped this one.  Those of us who take this comment seriously carry no small weight of angst about it knowing we sin almost on a daily basis.  (Thank God for His grace, or there wouldn't be a single man in heaven.)

And honest to goodness, we can't help it.  Our eyes wander.  We are attracted to curves, to bosoms, to derrieres, to curvaceous lips.  Now, ladies, please don't misunderstand me here, especially those of you who are married to us.  Just because we are attracted to another woman's looks doesn't mean we want to leave you for her.  We are still attracted to you.  We still love you.  Honestly, I believe that if we had a switch we could turn that would make us only have eyes for you, we'd throw the switch and then super glue, duct tape, weld, and wire it in place.  We hate disappointing  you when our eyes wander.  We really don't want to hurt you, and if we could turn it off, I believe most of us would.

But we can't.  It's wired into us.  Many of us struggle with self control.

And if you think us pastors have it easy...try officiating at a wedding where the bride and the bridesmaids are all wearing low cut dresses, and most of them are proud of the assets they have been given.  Try standing two or three steps above said bride and bridesmaids in front of a whole room of people who are staring at you when you are officiating.  The senior pastor I served with gave me a helpful word of advice when I was first starting out.  He showed me a notebook he always officiated at wedding with. 

"It helps when the dresses are low cut," he said.

I understand and carry my notebook to every wedding.

We live in a sexually charged culture.  Young ladies are encouraged to push the envelope when it comes to fashion.  Celebrity wardrobe malfunctions make the headlines on television and internet news sites.  Porn is readily available without filter on any computer hooked to the net. Guys and gals face temptation every single day.

And for some, their self control breaks.  They give in. 

They/we/I know it's wrong.  They/we/I would like to stop.  But it's doggone hard.  Especially when you are fighting thousands of years of evolution.

But I'm still trying.  I'm working hard for several reasons.  I don't want to disappoint my wife and ruin the great relationship I have with her.  I want to provide an example for my daughters showing them a man can have self control, and hopefully they will find a husband who does as well.  I want to prove that us guys aren't all jerks who only care about the size of a woman's bosom or if she can fit into a size 1. 

And when temptation strikes, I remind myself what I stand to lose if I should fall.

In some ways, I feel sorry for Rep. Weiner.  He's fallen.  He now faces the consequences of his actions.  I hope they teach him a lesson.  I hope he learns from his experience and can rebuild the trust with his wife and with the public.

I don't know that many are ready to forgive him just yet.

But I know God forgives.

And I hope we eventually can as well.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Hate Snakes

14The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”  --Genesis 3: 14-15

I understand this sentiment all too well.  I hate snakes.  It probably stems from an incident when I was roughly 2 1/2 or three years old.  We lived in a trailer house, and every morning, I'd trudge outside and pick up the paper.  At this age, I considered it fun. 

One morning, I opened the door and proceeded to walk toward the steps.  I looked toward the ground, and there was a snake!  I have no earthly idea what kind of snake it was.  I just know that the darn thing looked right at me, opened its mouth and hissed.  I screamed bloody murder and ran back inside the house.  My mom shot at it a couple of times with a .22, but I don't think she hit it.  She did finish it off with a hoe.

Don't know if it was the shock of seeing the snake, it hissing at me, or what, but the image is deeply embedded in my brain, and I believe it serves as the root core of why I vehemently dislike snakes.

Fast forward 35+ years to yesterday.

I worked in my garden harvesting my corn crop.  After finishing, I needed to water my cucumbers, squash, and watermelon.  I headed to the spigot on the west side of the church building.  I was just about to reach down and grab the water hose when I heard a hissing sound.  I looked into an old armadillo hole and saw a black snake trying to swallow a toad.  Looking carefully, I saw the snake's head and fangs protruding on each side.  It was a water moccasin!  Venomous!  Not the kind of snake I want hanging around with my kids and pets playing outside on a regular basis.

Now, I know what scripture says in the 16th chapter of the book of Mark:

17"And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  Mark 16: 17-18

I also know that this text probably was added later after the original author finished his work (you'd be able to tell it too if you read the Greek.)  I do know there are those who believe this to be inspired scripture, and these idiot, asinine, crazy people actually handle poisonous snakes during worship.

My faith is not that strong. 

I immediately left the vicinity and headed for my shop to appropriate a hoe.

Have you ever tried digging a snake out of a hole where he is entrenched?  Not an easy task.  Cottonmouths are notoriously strong.  They are also pretty aggressive, and my saving grace was this one was trying to swallow a meal.  He was more in retreat mode, so I had an edge.  However, despite my efforts, I still couldn't get the thing out.  It was time for stronger measures.

I like the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and I personally believe it guarantees individual American citizens the right to bear arms.  When facing a poisonous snake in a hole, that right to bear arms comes into play handily, and I exercised it.  My kids watched from their bedroom window where they could see the scene play out.

The first two would have done the job, I found out later.  But I fired two more for insurance measures.

After dragging the snake out, I used my hoe for insurance. 

Now, just for safe measures, I went back and read my letter of call.  It has nothing in there about protecting the church from deadly serpents, but I think I'm going to go back and write it in.  One day, I'm going to retire, and the next person in line will need to know what he/she is getting into. 

Apparently, in order to be a country preacher, you've got to be a snake killer as well.

p.s.  Hung the dang thing on the fence belly up.  It better rain now!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Thought it was Funny

Yesterday I was asked to bless the meal at a wedding I presided at.  Immediately following the blessing, I had to jet to a graduation party to bless the meal there and rub elbows with a number of my members.

The DJ handed me the mike, and I proceeded:

Folks, I have good news and bad news for you this afternoon.  The good news is I have another commitment this afternoon.  I need to get to a graduation party immediately after this prayer, and everyone knows the party really gets started after the reverend leaves.

But now, the bad news.  I've already managed to have a beer, so the prayer is going to last at least 20 minutes!

(It only lasted two, for those who  might be interested.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On Cutting Education

I'm a pretty conservative guy when it comes to the spending of my money.  You can't be raised German and be a part of a family who struggled financially for a while without that rubbing off on you as well.

That being said, there are still a few places where I splurge when it comes to spending.  One of those is for my kids' education.

As our children approached schooling age, my wife and I decided they would each get at least one year of pre-school before heading into kindergarten.  In this day's educational society, it's almost a requirement for kids to do well in school that they get such instruction.

We took our time and looked around at several places before deciding on their pre-school, and we've had no regrets.  They've done well, and my eldest did exceptionally well in kindergarten after having her preschool classes. 

My wife and I have also "splurged" when it comes to the school our children attend.  We're basically on the dividing line between two districts, and we chose to keep them with their friends and group that they have gone to preschool with even though it costs me a yearly transfer fee to keep them in the Bellville School District.  We feel they would get quality education either way, but their comfort level as they learn is important as well. 

Why am I sharing all these details?

Well, it has to do with the future, both of my kids and for the future of education in the state of Texas. 

How are the two related?

Well, my wife and I splurge on our kids' education because we know it is one of the greatest things that will help them become productive citizens in the future.  Education leads to a healthier, happier lifestyle.  It empowers kids to reach their potential and contribute to society in general.  We know these facts, and we know that for the sake of our children's future, we need to invest now.  We also know there is no cutting corners.  It's too important.  Therefore, if our budget gets tightened, we will cut all over the place before touching our kids' education.  If things were to get tight, the cable t.v. will be reduced to almost nothing, there will be absolutely no eating out, extraneous groceries will be axed, and we will tap into savings if we have to.  Again, it's too important.

Unfortunately, the state of Texas--at least the governing body of said state--doesn't seem to share our opinion of the matter.  In the budget crunches that have hit nearly every state, education seems to be a target.  The state of Texas is planning to cut four billion dollars from the educational system, and while this may help the state's bottom line in the near term, I believe it may have disastrous results in the future.

How so?

Well, let's begin with how I personally build any items.  Do I look for the cheapest materials and cut corners to save a buck?  Not a chance.  I know that spending up front for quality now leads to cost savings down the line.  For instance, I recently invested in a new ceiling fan for my rent house.  The old fan (which came with the house when I bought it) had a short in the light kit.  There was no replacement kit for this fan.   What did I choose to replace this fan with?  A model which had replacement parts and kits.  Why?  If something happens, I've got options.  Did the fan cost me more?  Yep.  Will it be worth it?  I'm sure it will if something happens.   And I'll save a lot of money in the future if something happens.

But it takes that investment to prepare for the eventualities.

What corners are being cut by the state decreasing the education budget by four billion?

Teacher pay.  Not good.  The best and the brightest will be lured away by other opportunities where they can make more.

Athletic and art programs.  Not good on either count.  Both programs teach excellent life skills to kids that will be used throughout life.

Classroom size increases.  Again, not good.  Smaller classes produce better quality education.  That's almost indisputable.

For the life of me, I can't explain why the state hasn't looked at getting rid of the standardized tests it requires schools to give.  The most recent stuff I could find showed the state paying almost $100 million on the text and materials and classes to boost test scores.  How many teachers' jobs would that save?

And something I haven't run across yet: will administrators feel the budget tightening as well?  Will they be given pay cuts and forced furloughs?  After all, what's good for the goose...

I believe if we are concerned with the future of our state and its ability to compete in a global economy, we need to invest in those who will help our state become major players.  Our teachers and students will produce the creative minds necessary to do this.  Cutting corners now will damage this. 

My recommendation: cut other places in the budget to bare bones, cut TAKS, STAAR, or whatever other standardized tests the state spends money on, and invest in our future by keeping those four billion dollars where they belong: educating our kids.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Only This Much

My middle child is a sensitive little girl.

She's one of those kids who when she is in trouble, you only have to look at her, and she starts crying.

Last night, she knew she was in trouble.

She hit her big sister without provocation.
Her big sister told on her, and she went and hid.

Of course, I found her.

Immediately, she began crying...sobbing...real tears and everything.

"Daddy, are you mad at me?" she asked, chin quivering.

"Yes, honey, Daddy is mad at you."

More tears.  Heavier crying.

"Come hear, hon," I said.  "Look, when Daddy gets mad at you, he's mad for this long (holds up two fingers less than an inch apart.  And do you know how long Daddy loves you?"

Crying stops.  Inquisitive eyes.  Shaking head.

"Daddy loves you this much!"  (Stretches arms as far out as they can go.)

Big smile.

"Kaylee, Daddy will get mad at you, but no matter how mad I get, I will always love you."

Monster hug.  No more tears. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Open Letter to All Texans

Readers of this blog know my hesitancy to engage too much in the political process.  A pastor generally needs to be rather neutral regarding such things realizing he/she will have members on either side of a particular debate.  However, I feel as though I must enter the fray as many of my church family and friends are deeply affected by the actions of Centerpoint Energy out of Houston.  If you have a soft spot for standing up for the "little guy", I invite you to read the following, post it to your own blogs, send it to your local news papers, and forward it to all of your family and friends.  Your assistance is most welcome.

A few short years ago, the state of Texas tried to implement what was called "the largest land grab in Texas history." More than a few Texans stood opposed to the Trans-Texas Corridor and the attempt to take land that folks worked hard to buy or had been passed down from generation to generation. Because of their efforts, public outcry raised to a fever pitch, and the idea was finally scrapped. The "little guys" showed their moxie, overcame log odds, and defeated something that all but looked like a juggernaut.

Such a thing is built deep within the DNA of Texans. Our state has a history of people who celebrate their independence and are willing to stand against those who would try to rob them of their rights or their property. The people of Gonzales shouted, "Come and take it!" as they fired their cannon and stood against those who would have removed it. The defenders of the Alamo held their ground against overwhelming odds–finally succumbing, but buying precious time with their blood. Houston’s army defeated a greater force by playing it smart and using the element of surprise. These actions were all in response to a dictator who tried to overwhelm the spirit of independence which pervaded the early Texans and Tejanos. Those early folks weren’t going to stand for it, and their passion continues to influence Texans to this day.

Once again, a group of Texans is uniting to oppose such forces which are seeking to take land and livelihood. Centerpoint Energy has proposed running high voltage power lines through Fayette, Austin, and Waller Counties to provide electricity to the city of Houston. They are seeking right of way through hard working Texans’ land and using considerable influence to have it done.

Now, no one disputes the growing need that urban centers have for electricity. Neither would anyone dispute allowing customers to pay lower prices for energy. Both of these things are presumptively going to happen should these lines be run. The first will definitely happen. The second...well, the evidence isn’t exactly hard and fast.

Yet, it is upon this evidence that Centerpoint is making its case. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, their numbers are indeed sound, at least in saving some folks some cash. Is that savings worth the price the folks of Fayette, Austin, and Waller Counties have to pay in giving up their land and livelihood? One could argue it might should they receive a reduction in their energy costs. However, these lines will give hardly anyone in these counties this benefit. All the benefit will go to Cenerpoint customers only. In effect, Centerpoint is telling those whose land they are taking, "We’re going to take your land, pay you what we consider "fair value", and you will get no benefit." Would anyone in their right mind agree to such a proposal? Is it any wonder why the folks in these counties are up in arms over this issue?

One then wonders why Centerpoint wants to run through these counties instead of using already existing right of ways to accomplish their task. Doesn’t the state already have enough land to handle such matters? Why do they keep wanting more from the "little guys?" The argument put forth by Centerpoint is: going down those right of ways is not cost effective for us.

O.K.  Let's play that game a little bit?  Most people who invest in various items, be it homes, cars, what have you must judge the cost effectiveness of their purchases as well.  If these folks cannot afford their investment or it is not cost effective for them, they don't do it, they put it on their wish list for another time, or they seek alternative methods for paying for it.  Here is one thing such folks do not do: take others' property to make their desire more affordable.  In the individual world that's called stealing.  It is neither fair, just, or right in any sort of moral sense or otherwise.

Yet, is this not what Centerpoint is trying to do with these landowners?  Take something that doesn't belong to them to fulfill a desire of their company to provide electricity for its customers to perhaps save them a few pennies on the dollar?  Oh, and might we go ahead and ask how much Centerpoint is going to profit from this move as well?  Corporations do not undertake such massive projects to break even. 

So again we see a large entity trying to take from individual land owners their property to fulfill their desires and their pocketbooks without any benefit what-so-ever for those land owners.  Did such folks forget the lessons of the Trans-Texas Corridor?  Texans do not stand for such injustices committed to their people.

Therefore, just as Travis wrote his famous appeal for assistance to the rest of his fellow Texans, the people of Austin, Fayette, and Waller Counties appeal to their fellow Texans for assistance in standing against this injustice. Please make your voices known to your legislators and tell them, "Enough is enough." Centerpoint looks like a juggernaut to many; however, they cannot overcome something that is deeply embedded in Texans: their sense of justice, independence, and willingness to fight for what is right. With the aid of fellow Texans, those things will surely carry the day.