Thursday, June 30, 2005

Yugoslavian Goatherd School of Theology

Okay, I lied. It wasn't intentional, but when I said I wasn't going to write again until after the cruise I forgot that sometimes things just have to be said! (not that this column is one of those things...)

If I were to pass out to each of you different colored glasses and, then, I held up a sheet of white paper and asked you what color it was you would respond "blue", "pink", "gray" etc. according to the color of the glasses you were wearing. We view things -- all things -- through lenses colored by our experiences, our culture, our teachers, and even, to some extent, our DNA. As much as I love my African American brothers I will never know what it feels like to see through their eyes. I have to listen to them as often as possible and learn as much as I can from them and that will bring us closer together in understanding... but not all the way. They will never know what it means to be a white (VERY white. You can read through me) Scottish guy living in Michigan. We have different glasses.

An example: last night Detroit had its huge fireworks show. It is an awesome event with over ten thousand rockets, live bands, canned music, etc. all fired from barges between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. They always do this the Wednesday night before the 4th of July. Tomorrow morning, early, my wife and son and I will head to the airport. He will fly down to Texas to work with Kami's father, tending longhorn cattle and setting in fence posts. Kami and I will hop on a boat and leave the country for a week and a day. It will be the 4th year in a row that we will be out of the country on the 4th of July. Coincidence? Not really. We used to live in a wonderful neighborhood on top of a mountain in West Virginia. The neighbors gathered twice a year for a big party -- Christmas and the 4th of July. One year they came to me and told me it was our turn to host the party on the 4th. I said, "Are you kidding?" They said they weren't. I persevered: "You want us to celebrate the 4th? We lost!" We went ahead and did it, sending out invitations that said "You've got our country. Now come get our food." C'mon, when was the last time you had a Pearl Harbor party?

My son and I were standing in a store once, having a great discussion, our accents as thick as heather, when a sweet little store clerk walked over and asked, "Where y'all from?" When we finally told her we were Scottish she said, "I wish I had an accent like that!" My response: "If you hadn't shot us, you would!" I mean, we were fair and nice about it -- our guys dressed up like targets and stood in the middle of field beating drums so that you could find us easily. We stood shoulder to shoulder so if you missed one you'd hit the other. And you guys dressed up like Indians and shot us from the trees! How fair was that? Oh well, love what you've done with the country. (but we'll be back...)

Don't get me wrong: I love this country. I was born here (raised everywhere else) and even though I have a choice of where to live, I came here. My daughter was born in Scotland and my son in Ohio. We are forever bound to both places. So when you see the 4th of July celebrations, you see something different than I do. While I celebrate this as the freest, best country on the planet by a large margin, I can't help but wonder if, placed in that situation again, we would think it was fine to shoot our government officials and soldiers.

But that's beside the point (and, yes, I do have one). The simple fact is that none of us will see and feel everything that anyone else sees and feels. We need to respect that. If we are all seeking Christ, we will get along well enough to walk beside each other. One way to give each other room and grace for the journey is to enter the Yugoslavian Goatherd School of Theology. When I try to see past all the old, broken arguments (see last post) to what it is that is actually in the Scripture; to find what Christ requires of us rather than what we demand of others, I ask myself this: "If a Yugoslavian Goatherd were to stumble upon a Bible for the first time and read it, would he get "that" (whatever we are arguing about) out of it? Or are our arguments based on the fact that we had different teachers in different places at different times?"

When someone thinks I am attacking conservatives (it happens), or too mean to liberals, or resorts to name calling and accusations I first of all agree that they may be right. I have been wrong far too often in my life to become smug now! Second, I ask myself if they are seeing and hearing what I see and hear. If not, I try to close the gap. If it looks like that will be a waste of time, I wish them well, kindly promising to pray for them and love them forever, and move along. I can do that because I believe that the same grace offered to me is offered to them. And if we can't walk together very well down here, I still believe we can hug each other in heaven, when all the disruptive children come to the Father's house and His will is done.

If a Yugoslavian goatherd can't find it in the Bible. It might not be there. If our arguments sound bizarre and baseless, they might be. Another way to say this is: if God said it, that settles it. But if He did not expressly say it, it is open to negotiation. If God only speaks truth and wisdom, and if God chose not to say what we wish He'd said to bolster our argument, then our speaking has little to do with truth or wisdom and everything to do with what color glasses we are wearing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Day The Music Died

What did it for me was "Lasciviousness." I might need to explain: not the word so much as the way we used it. I was probably fourteen at the time and had been very well schooled in every doctrine and argument of the church. No kidding: I had read all of Foy E. Wallace Jr.'s books, all three volumes of "Axe at the Root" by Ira Rice, and every Freed-Hardeman lectureship book printed up to that time. I had read scores of debate books and listened to hundreds of sermons by red faced men damning the world and the church for their errors (I tried to sit back three or four rows to get out of the splash zone, but my parents feared that was a sign of backsliding and ordered me forward again). I was ready to face my hormone-laden years with all the pat answers and slogans with which the true church had faced down the devil, Baptists, Democrats, and Elvis over the last several decades.

Until a kid at school asked me a question. He had noticed that I had Dared to Be A Daniel; I was a true pioneer of the faith, a martyr for the cause of Christ. He could tell all that because I didn't dance. While the rest of the gym class skipped and toed their way into the arms of Beelzebub, I had a note from my parents allowing me to sit -- and sit in judgment -- oozing pure righteousness from every pore. While the rest of my peers folk danced their way right into the fiery pit where they would forever dance on the hot coals of their own sins, I was all right with God. I told my friend that I didn't dance because the Bible said not to. There was even a word in the Bible for dancing: lasciviousness. My friend asked me for some materials on the subject and boy was I ready! I showed up the next day with three tracts against dancing I'd grabbed from the church's welcome table (yes, we had three tracts on the subject at our welcome table...), all of which used extensive arguments about how dancing led to pregnancy, liberalism, alcoholism, and car wrecks. We had been warned, for the Bible railed against lascivious behavior and the word "lascivious" meant "dancing." I knew that for sure because I had been told it time and again and it was in the tracts, too.

My friend had the gall to question my definition of the word "lascivious" so I trotted off to my father's huge library and pulled out all the Greek books and thesaurus's I could find. I poured over them for days before the music died: Lascivious didn't mean dancing. It wasn't even mentioned in any of the definitions. I searched for days, but I didn't dare ask anyone at church about it because asking questions was a sure sign of imminent perdition. Right after this, we had a youth rally (old style, where red faced preachers yelled at us between songs sung out of Sacred Selections...) where lascivious and dancing were equated constantly. My faith was breaking.

I knew something that didn't fit with what I had been told. More followed. I can remember being taught that the Bible was a simple book: if you just read it, you would understand it. The reason other churches didn't do as we did? They didn't believe the Bible! Simple, really. We even made fun of churches that had educated preachers because you didn't need any education to understand the Bible.

And then a friend asked me a question. Is it a sin to drink a beer, even if you don't get drunk? I assured him that it was a terrible sin and went off to get the most firepower I could (but not firewater) to prove the point. One of my main sources was a book called "The Bible, The Saint, and The Liquor Industry" by Jim McGuiggan (one of the finest men I know, by the way, and none of what happens next should indicate otherwise! It isn't his fault I'm an idiot). He dissected the words for wine and drink to the nth degree; so much so that my head spun with the complicated nature of the whole subject. My belief that the Bible was a simple book died that week. Without a ton of knowledge and wisdom there was no way to get out of those words what Jim did. And that was just the beginning. I found that the more I read, the more complicated some things got. I ended up having to say with Peter that some things Paul wrote are just very hard to understand. I had to admit to people that I wasn't sure what Ezekiel had in mind sometimes and I didn't have a moment to moment timeline of what was going to happen when the world ends (although that filmstrip, "The Day Christ Came Again" was a real cracker, wasn't it?).

Now I am 48 and hurtling down the track towards 49. I am less certain of many of our arguments than I used to be. I listen more and argue less. I do a lot of shrugging and saying, "I really don't know." But one thing I know: the more these old weights drop off me the clearer I see Jesus in scripture and in life. The less I fight with other believers -- including my own brothers -- the more time I have to act like Jesus. I haven't arrived yet -- far from it -- but I have found the journey a wonderful thing.

For the less I know, the more I know. The less I see, the more I believe. The less certain I am, the more trusting I am. In my weakness, His strength is a thing to inspire awe.

[Cheerio, my friends. I leave Friday morning on a cruise to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary (thank you, Jesus!). We will return, the Lord and Carnival Cruises willing, on the evening of July 9th. Sad to say -- but true -- I won't be thinking of you very often, but when I get back I'll think about you extra hard, okay? You can always listen to my lessons online at Until then, may grace and peace be with you, especially when certainty can't be]

Friday, June 24, 2005

Step Right Up!

It is hard to imagine you haven't seen something after you have. Let me explain: I saw The Ten Commandments so I know what Moses looked like and what the parting of the Red Sea was all about. Kind of. Had I been there, though, and seen it firsthand without the benefit of 48 years of movies, special effects, flannelgraph figures, sheet sermons and VBS programs I am not at all sure I would have stepped between those walls of water. Yes, the army of Pharoah was coming, but if I were an Israelite I would have seen armies and slavery before... but not a sea opened up. What kind of faith does it take to turn away from one in a million odds to none in a million and trust God to make it work anyway?

I think of my son at this point. He and I have a strange hobby for a minister and his boy. We are shooters. I compete in combat pistol and tactical rifle matches and have for over 20 years. My son is a long range rifle shooter (think 600+ meters with open sights). While that might not be normal for a minister, I have found that it keeps elders' meetings a bit shorter and a tad less contentious, but that might just be a coincidence.

Anyway -- Duncan slides himself down into prone position and sights his Springfield M1A downrange, resting it on his backpack. He has to allow for wind, mirage, elevation changes, air density, humidity and the peculiarities of the particular bullet and powder making up his .308 load. Once all of those are factored in he has to time the swing of the barrel. No one can hold a barrel rock solid. True long range shooters learn to move the barrel in an inperceptible figure 8, timing the pressure on the trigger to break at the right point. They then hold their breath and wait until the swing of the barrel and the pressure on the trigger coincide with that micro-second when their heart is between beats. When it all comes together -- they have to take the shot.

Beginners at long range shooting find that to be the most difficult part; not the math involved in bullet path vs. atmospheric pressure vs. timing their breath and heartbeat -- but the actual committal of the self to the shot. Only real shooters can make themselves take the shot regardless of the pressure around them.

Which reminds me of Joshua. God promised him the land -- as He had years before. Earlier, a whole generation was afraid to commit, to take the shot, so to speak. Joshua wasn't them. God would split the Jordan as they marched through... but not before. You couldn't wait for Him to open it up this time, as He did with the Red Sea. This time you had to commit before He acted. You had to trust Him. Step right up, step right in, and take the shot.

Too often I freeze on the target line. No, not on the real range, but in life. God calls us to act in faith, trusting Him to do His part. But we have to step up and step in first. God calls us to love our wives before they are perfect, before they love us back, before anything. Step right up and trust God. God calls us to go into all the world before we see how the funding will work out, before we see how the nation will receive us, before anything. Step right up. God calls us to give as we have been prospered before we see if we get that big commission, before we see if our insurance is going up, before anything else. Step right up.

We say we trust Him, but do we trust Him enough to step right up, step right in -- to take the shot? Once that bullet has left the barrel -- as my son and I both attest -- there ain't nothin' in the world you can do to change where it is going. That is why it is so hard to finally say -- enough! -- and pull the trigger. I wonder if that is the problem with us: we lose control when we act in faith and trust God with the consequences. We wait to "do the right thing" until everything else is already perfect. We want more control, more guarantee of perfection, than faith offers us.

Which is, of course, the problem with baptism. Follow me on this one: I think I know why many churches just won't accept baptism as a necessary part of our obedience to Christ. You see, I can believe in my bedroom and no one may know. I can repent of my sins, truly, deeply, sincerely and still be alone in my backyard. I can even confess to God that I believe in Him and in His Son... and only be overheard by the fish in the aquarium. But if I am baptized, I lose control. Someone else is in control of my body. I can't breathe. I can't stop it. I take the shot and who knows where it will go?

Just like the Israelites. Just like Joshua. Just like the new believer headed into the baptistry. Just like Duncan on the firing line. There comes a time to trust, to let it happen, to give it over -- to step up, step in, and take the shot.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Paper and the Card

[NOTE: Patrick is posting several articles this week and next since he will be out of the country June 30 - July 10. Remember to go to if you want to go on a cruise with him and his friends next January 7th. Only a dozen or so cabins are left.]

It hadn't been a hard meeting to preach. It was only a Thursday through Sunday morning event at the East Grand Church of Christ in Springfield, MO and I only spoke three times. Billy Wilson, an old friend from Glasgow, Scotland, was the main speaker and did a great job. Everybody else did all the hard work. I just showed up, gave my wee talks, and moved off the stage.

So why was I so tired? Here it was, a hot Sunday afternoon, and I had just done a thirty mile march with full gear.... okay, I had just walked in from the rental car parking area hauling all my bags. Same thing. Anyway, I sucessfully turned in the keys to the car, found the check in counter and turned my biggest bag over to the TSA, and went in search for my gate.

It was on the other end of the airport. Not that Springfield is a large airport, by any definition, but for some reason Northwest Airlines has been assigned a gate two miles from everything else in the airport... okay, maybe a hundred or two hundred yards, but you get my point. On the other end of the airport there was a restaurant, some shops, a very comfy lounge with plush chairs, a bank, lots of people, a pool party with an open bar... okay, I made that last one up, but you understand where I am going with this, don't you? After schlepping your bags out of the fun part of the airport you trudge past the luggage carousels, the rental car counters, and the large red Jeep parked in the middle of everything with "Springfield Airport Rescue" on it (a tad unsettling to see THAT right before you strap yourself into an executive mailing tube headed for Detroit), you come to a long rising ramp, the top of which has a few racks of industrial chairs, a Coke machine, and a vending machine selling off brand snacks. That's it. Northwest's side of the airport recalls to mind Bosnia, circa 1981.

I was hot, tired, and wanted nothing more than to lay my computer bag and carry on down, read a book, and engage in non-interaction (I am an infamous loner and introvert. Sorry. But not much). I had two hours to kill and just the book to do it with. A few pages in, two airport employees arrived pushing wheelchairs occupied by two older African American women. I recognized the women from the flight in four days earlier. We hadn't spoken to each other then, but I had noticed their need for the wheelchairs and the way that one of them smiled most of the time. She was smiling now as she quietly asked one of the employees, "Is there any place to find a newspaper?" The employees shrugged and said there was probably one at the restaurant, turned, and wheeled the chairs away. The women sat quietly, looking at a two day old USA Today as I sat there and thought...

I didn't understand why the employees didn't wheel one of the ladies down to get a paper. I also didn't want to get up. I had my book. I was in the Cone of Silence. I was hot and tired. Plus, to help, I would have to hoist the my bags again. Post 9/11 you can't ask someone to watch them for you without being in danger of random body cavity searches (and after six or seven of those, they lose their novelty). I kept telling God "no" but found myself putting the book away, grunting under the weight of my bags and walking all the way across the airport, buying a Sunday paper (and a Diet Dr. Pepper -- hey, I had to get something out of this trip!) and walking back to the Northwest Gulag.

I walked up to the ladies and said, "I heard you say you wanted a paper, so I got one for you." I smiled at them and walked back to my seat, dumped the bags, and was reaching for my book when I looked over and saw them both staring at me. It was as if I had given them a house! Their eyes shone with both disbelief and joy. I waved it off and told them it wasn't anything, but one of them said twice, "I can't believe you would just go do this for us!" I got back up and went over to them and told them I was a Christian and that is why I did it. I gave them my card and told them that when they got back to Detroit, if they needed anything, just give the church a call and we'd be there for them.

They told me that they were Christians, too, and I spent the next fifteen minutes saying "no" when they asked me if I knew Pastor This or Pastor That, working hard on keeping my smile going. And that was that. I thought.

Three days later I got a lovely card from one of the women. It said I had a servant's hands, ways and heart. I was stunned. She sent me a card! I flipped the card over: it cost $1.99 (if she paid sticker price) and the stamp was another 37 cents. I gave them a $1.50 newspaper and they had just spent more money to thank me! They had out-Christianed me!

The ladies were wrong: I don't think I have a servant's hands, ways or heart. I have to fight myself every day -- a hundred times a day -- to remember that I have to live what I believe. But when that card came, those ladies blessed me so much that I couldn't help myself. I went door to door talking to the staff about these wonderful women and how a simple little act (all of a sudden, the trip to get the paper seemed like only a few steps and not Marco Polo's trek across China) had brought the three of us such joy.

Now, almost two weeks later, I am sitting in my office and thinking about those ladies. I may never see them again. I gave them my card and told them to call anytime, but something tells me they won't. I hope to see them again, here or in heaven. They think they were blessed by me, but the fact is that they were messengers of God to Patrick that day.

"For how many of us have entertained angels unawares...."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Family Code

From early on in our family's life we made a habit of gathering around the table once every six months or so and making a list of those things we believed and lived by. They weren't lists of rules (eat your veggies, tithe, etc.) but lists of overriding principles; a description of who we were as a family and what "rules of the heart" we were willing to submit ourselves to.

When the kids were little they would lose patience with the process fairly quickly, but not before giving a couple guidelines of their own. "No hitting!" "Be nice to people!" "You should share your stuff!" And then, vrooom! They were gone. That was fine. Now the code was their code. When it was all done we would put it on the refrigerator (right by the L plates) and all were bound to it. Since it wasn't scripture it needed rewritten and edited every so often, but never by just one person. We all got involved. It was a great time for teaching, but also of learning as daddy's ears got to hear what the kids and wife thought needed to be family law.

My daughter is married now and my son is 16, but we still have the code. Here is the last version of it that we worked on together.

1. I will walk gently on this earth. By this I mean that I will try not to shed blood, pollute, or otherwise take from this earth more than I need to so that life may continue after I am gone.

2. I will forgive others of their sins and never hold those sins against them. I have been forgiven too often by the Lord to hold any sin, no matter of what consequence, against anyone, even if they do not repent.

3. Jesus is the center of our family, the judge in all matters of argument or policy. I have relinquished control to Him and will not take it back into my hands. If He said it, that settles it, but if He didn't say it, it is negotiable.

4. I will make every effort to live in peace with all men and women.

5. I will try to do what is right rather than try to win any personal battles.

6. As a servant, I will serve.

7. As I am committed to Christ, I must commit to my family and the church which He established. My order of priority must be Christ, His church, the family, myself, and then the job or school.

8. I will endeavor never to allow culture or tradition to blind me to the truth of God's Word or to its execution. I will also try to never let my fear of culture or tradition to disrupt the people of God unnecessarily.

9. Whatever Jesus says is right -- even if I do not understand it. Whatever Jesus does is right -- regardless of whether or not I would have done it that way. Whatever Jesus is is right -- and my goals should be aligned towards becoming more like Him.

10. My life, goals, and wishes are relatively unimportant when they are compared to the larger goal of pleasing God and blessing His people -- including members of this family.

Don't make one of these things if you don't want to be bound by it. One day the wind caught the screen door, jerked it out of my hand and slammed it shut. My daughter called down from upstairs, "We are a gentle people!" Because of number 7 I present my calendar to my wife and children. They have veto power over any travel, any speaking engagement, etc. There have been a few times when the elders scheduled a meeting when my wife needed me or my son needed a ride home. I made my apologies to the elders and took care of my family. They are good and godly men and didn't give me grief over it, but had they done so it wouldn't have changed a thing. I can get another job. I can't fail my family.

Notice that outside symbols of success are absent from this list. They are secondary. An example: my son was struggling with algebra (and I was NO help) and his grades just weren't great. After his sister breezed through school with a 4.0 his low Bs and Cs were troubling. I went to parent-teacher night at his school and one teacher after another said something like this: "We think Duncan can get better grades. He is intelligent and seems willing to learn. However, we must say this: he is a Christian gentleman. He is well behaved and a reliable friend to both the staff and the kids." I was thrilled -- over the moon! For in a hundred years the fact that son couldn't figure out what "y" meant in that equation will not matter much, but whether or not he belonged to Jesus, whether or not he lived according to the code -- that will mean everything.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Jack's "L" Plate...

Here's a story that changed my life when I first heard it from Jack Exum nearly twenty years ago. Jack was once a missionary in Northern Ireland and the Irish, like the Brits, drive on the other (aka "proper") side of the road. They also prefer roundabouts to stop signs as it keeps the traffic moving and thins out the tourists. Getting a driver's license is a bit of a struggle in any British territory and the test is a fearsome thing. When Jack's son was ready to try it he drove him to the testing facility. An hour and a bit later, his son came back: he's passed! They rejoiced and slapped "L" plates on the front and rear of the car and drove him home.

What are "L" plates? When a new driver passes his driving test they have to put a notebook paper sized white sign with a big red "L" on the front and rear of their car for the first year. It means "learner" and is a warning to other drivers to give the new guy a bit more room. Kids hate the idea, but parents and other drivers appreciate it. It can be a sticker or a metal plate, but "L" plates are a part of the British and Irish scenery, roadwise.

After dropping off his son, Jack had to run some errands and hit the road again. Unfortunately, he seemed to have had a lapse in his thinking for he entered a busy roundabout the wrong way, scattering cars into ditches before he, himself, went into the ditch. About the time he realized what he had done he saw a large group of angry Irish men headed his direction, led by the biggest, meanest Irishman Jack had ever seen! Things looked dire until they got within thirty feet or so and the big man threw his arms out to his side, holding back the others, saying "Wait a minute, lads. He's nothing but a learner!" The complexion of the crowd changed immediately as they gathered around him asking him if he was all right and reassuring him that driving would get easier; he'd get the hang of it one day.

Jack never got around to mentioning that those weren't, technically, his "L" plates.

I thought about that story a lot and within days had "L" plates up in our house. It was a way to offer every person in the house grace. As my children grew one might spill the milk or struggle with a homework assignment and the conversation would go something like this:

"Kara! You're acting like an eight year old!"
"I am eight."
"Oh. Well, then. Carry on."

It was a way to reframe accidents and struggles as something other than tragedies. Kids are kids. Things happen. It isn't the end of the world, for they are learners. We can use the opportunity to share laughter with them, a bit of wisdom and correction if needed -- in a spirit of grace, or just grab the towel, mop it up and ask them if would like some milk now that the table and carpet have had all they want!

Oh, and grown-ups get the same treatment. Once I told Kara that she could do something, but then forgot I had given her that permission. When she did the thing in question I got all over her about it... and then remembered that she had done it with my blessing. Yikes! I remember going to her room and feeling so terrible, so low, such a failure as a father. I began a profuse apology which she listened to for a few minutes before asking:

"Dad, how old are you?"
"Thirty eight."
"Have you ever been 38 before?
"Have you ever had a twelve year old daughter before?"
"Then don't worry about it. Nobody expects you to get it right the first time!"

Wow. I had just been given grace by a little girl who had the right to make me beg. It all started with those "L" plates. We are all just learners. None of us have ever been where we are before. This is all new to us. I'll close with a few truisms (as opposed to rules, some of which I've shared before). These are those bits of worldview I repeat frequently to my kids and to myself to get us through our first -- and only -- passage through this vale of wonder and terror.

1. Don't panic. It is what it is, but God is still God, and God is still good.

2. Anyone who expects perfection from this world hasn't been in it long, or is the world's worst observer.

3. You can't chose events, but you can control where you are, what you are doing, and how you will react when events comes. Your emotions and reactions are your choice and no one else's.

4. Everybody's greatest desire and greatest fear is: being different, special. Some go the cheap route and staple something to their heads. Others give up and blend into the great gray lump of humankind, never leaving a trace of their passage. Those who live for Christ are different enough to attract good and bad attention. You won't have to work for it -- it will just happen.

5. Anyone who wants to live forever has picked the wrong planet and the wrong species.

6. Only the person who isn't afraid of failure, of embarrassment, and of being thought the fool can accomplish anything of importance. Accept no labels but those given you by Jesus. Any other judgment of you or your value comes from amateur judges who ought to find another line of work.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Photo In My Wallet...

I still have the photo in my wallet. Not "A" photo but "THE" photo. It is my wife's senior picture, taken just a few months before we were married twenty six years ago. I have more recent photos of her in my planner, but the one in my wallet is the one I see most. While she doesn't completely understand this, she smiles when I tell her it is because she still looks like that to me. She is still my beautiful eighteen year old sweetheart. She is the girl I try to impress every day. My view of being a man in a marriage requires that I be her warrior and lover; that I ride to her rescue every day.

It might be in little things -- like making the bed or doing the laundry without being asked, or in refusing to eat a meal at her table without thanking her profusely and joining in the cleaning up. It might be in listening to her describe her day even though I really don't get why she wants to do that! She is an interior designer and I have heard more about carpets, furniture and drapes (sorry -- "window treatments") than I ever wanted to hear, but she needs to say something so I need to be there to hear it. I might need to ride to her rescue by taking her out as often as possible, learning which restaurants she likes and which ones she doesn't, or by holding her purse at the mall (and how bad can that be, guy? For one, it is the only time I'm near my money...).

It might be in bigger things. My wife came from fairly wealthy family while mine was very poor. I warned her that marrying me was not a step down the social ladder but a leap into the abyss! But she smiled and took my hand all those years ago and, by doing so, changed my life and saved it at the same time. In response, I must be willing to do whatever it takes to make her life a joy. My family was in from the far, far right edge of the brotherhood; the only part of it where, when the preacher spoke about hell he would frequently giggle. My dad -- a good and righteous man -- is still part of that group. He firmly believes that Christmas is evil and preaches against it even in mid-June. Kami's family begins decorating for Christmas right about then. To my father's credit he has never criticized my wife for decorating the house for the holidays or for anything else. He knows that I have already chosen her above all others and that I will not tolerate anyone speaking against her -- even my father or mother. She is my girlfriend and I am her warrior and lover. She is safe with me. She will never hear criticism from my lips and I will not tolerate it from others.

I use humor a lot when I speak, but check over the tapes and CDs of the last 20+ years and you will never hear me tell a story that puts my wife in a bad light -- not even when I am "just kidding." If she wrecked the car twice this week and burned every dinner not one other person on the planet would ever know about it.

One time she wanted to do a Master's program. In Britain the system is different. You pay for the program and then take as long as it takes to do the degree. So I paid for the program only to come downstairs six months later and find her sitting among a circle of books and papers with tears in her eyes. I said, "Sweetie, what's wrong?" She wiped her eyes and said, "I hate this. I thought I would really like this subject but now that I am in it, I hate it." I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Then don't do it. Quit." She said, "I can't quit. You paid all that money so I could do this." I sat on the floor next to her and hugged her saying, "Angel, I paid that money so that you would be happy. If quitting would make you happy, I got what I paid for."

I learned how to do this from Ephesians 5 where it tells me that I am her head just as Christ is the head of the church. Is the church perfect? No, not to anybody but Jesus. Ephesians goes on to say that He treats the church as if there weren't any spots or blemishes. Then Paul tells us that is the way we are to treat our wives.

And so I see no wrinkles, no blemishes, no passage of time. I see an eighteen year old girl with long brown hair and whose smile shattered my self-imposed exile twenty six years ago. I know I could pick a fight here and there and criticize this or that if I wanted to. But I don't want to. Doing it God's way is a lot more fun.

If you'll excuse me, I'll go look at that photo again.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Are We Men?

Several posts ago I mentioned that I signed out my son from school and put "want to" under "reason." More than one commented that they wished they could do that. Can't you? And what is stopping you? We are the fathers of our sons and daughters. We are the protectors, the ones who take the risks, and the ones who stride forward to clear the path for our children. Here's an example.

I wasn't a perfect student, but I was fairly well behaved. One day, back in the time of teachers wielding paddles, I was accused by a teacher of doing something and sent out to the hallway. Everyone knew what was going to happen next. A moment later, he appeared and ordered me against the wall to take my punishment. "No, sir," I told him and stood my ground. He went through various threats for the next three or twenty minutes but I wouldn't budge. He then threatened to send me to the vice principal's office. The vice principal??? Nobody wanted to go there. Nobody had actually seen him but it was rumored that he had an electric paddle with holes in it and you could sometimes smell sulphur and see flashes of light under his door. "Then I'll go to the vice principal's office," I said, my voice breaking, but not my nerve.

Surprised that he wasn't actually a gargoyle, I nevertheless failed to enjoy my meeting with the VP. He threatened and growled at me for some time before pulling out his trump card: "Do you want me to call your father?" I didn't exactly smile but I sat up a little straighter and said, "That would be a good idea." He called my father and we waited. I think the VP was trying to glare me to death but I survived. After some time my father entered the room. My father is now 74 years old and I don't believe he has ever used a doorknob. BOOM! The door crashed open. Ignoring the VP he turned to me and pointe his finger right at my face. "Did you do it?" I replied, "No, sir." He wheeled on the VP, finger leading the way, and said, "You will not touch my son." The VP swallowed and said, "No, sir."

I agree with most of John Eldredge's "Wild at Heart" but I much prefer Brad Miner's book "The Compleat Gentleman." I use it extensively in men's retreats when I tell my brothers that we are to be warriors, lovers, and monks. Warriors in that we are the ones who make sure justice is done, women are protected, the weak are safe. Some of us will use muscle, others the gun and uniform, and others will use law and the pen, but we MUST be warriors for we are men. The second part, lovers, is because we must value all we meet. We must love fiercely, but non-sexually, those women, girls, and boys we meet. We must love them far too much to lust after them, to misuse them, or to allow their misuse by others. We do not have to eat, sleep, or have anything comfortable in our lives, but we MUST love them. (that is why I recently left my last ten dollars on the pillow at my hotel for the maids, even though I wasn't sure how I was going to eat that long day before my evening flight home. I don't have to eat, but I do have to take care of everyone in my path)

We are also to be monks -- those who are comfortable alone with God for they habitually seek that quiet time with the Father of all. That gives us the strength to do what we must do: be men of God.

I'll do more of the rules I use for Duncan later, but now you see them in context. Briefly, I will show you how this blessed me with my daughter. Daughters don't need as many rules, but they need many more discussions and lots of listening time. When my daughter was born, I cried for I knew that I would only have her for a little time. I promised God I would make it count. I took her out of school for daddy-daughter days. I gave up extra work and money so that I could be the one who helped her with homework or helped her shop. When she had her first period, I was the one who hugged her and told her how wonderful this way. I was the one who then took her to the mall for her to buy the prettiest dress she should find and then I was the one who took her to her favorite restaurant and made the day a party, a celebration of her growing up.

One day, it all came back a hundredfold. I was wondering aloud to her why she didn't accept offers to date from some nice Christian boys. She was seventeen or so, beautiful, very well liked... but she had never, ever dated even though I knew some of the good lads at church had asked. She looked at me and said, "Daddy, I am so loved here, I'm not in a big hurry to leave. Our house is a happy place and it is going to take someone special to get me out of here!"

Last June, I handed over my princess to that "someone special" and he, indeed, treasures her daily. My little princess is now married to a fellow minister... but she still calls her daddy every day "just because."

Warrior, lover, monk. It matters.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Deuteronomy Life...

I've always been a big fan of Deuteronomy 6:1-9. It is the way we decided to raise our two kids -- one now an adult and the other almost there. We were never very good at figuring out formal family devotionals and sitting down every night like the John Nelson family did in the old Jule Miller filmstrips. We needed to find a way to teach our children the way of the Lord, so we chose the Deut. 6:1-9 way. We would speak of God, right, wrong, facts, lies, answers, and questions "along the way." That way the six year difference in our children's ages would not be a problem in teaching them as we could have age-appropriate conversations with them several times daily, together and individually, about the weightier matters of the universe.

An example? My truck was very dirty and Duncan, my son of 16 years, and I were driving around doing guy stuff when I commented that it really needed a good washing. A few miles rolled on and there were some teenaged girls waving about signs for a free car wash. Duncan said, "Want to wash your truck here?" I thought a moment and said, "Better not," and drove on. Duncan, being a good soldier, didn't ask why. He knows to wait. A few minutes later I said, "Let me tell you why I had to pass by those girls. You might have noticed that they weren't wearing much?" He said he'd noticed. Of course he'd noticed! At his age all a guy really is is a bag of hormones with legs.

"I know it would have been hard for you to be there without lusting," I told him, "but that isn't the primary reason I didn't stop. It was more selfish than that. You see, I may be of advanced age and my hormone level is more a memory than a number, but I don't think I could have stood there and kept my head clean. You understand?" Duncan nodded that he did. "Buddy, I still have bad thoughts. I don't need outside help to sin. I might think impure thoughts while I am at the self serve car wash, but the odds are better that I can keep my head clean there than where there are nubile girls wearing about as much cotton as one finds in the top of an aspirin bottle. So, I am choosing the easier path on this one."

We talked awhile about lust and how difficult it is to keep your mind centered on good things -- Philippians 4 kind of things. I told him it doesn't get easier. "Son, you might not think that lust is not all that big a problem in a guy in his late forties who works for God, but you'd be wrong. Think of me like an old dog with arthritis laying on the porch. Something in him wants to chase cars, but he knows the chances of success are remarkably poor, so he just quietly wuffs and dreams of days long ago. I still have to fight that old dog's dream every day."

We have discussions like this most days; sometimes several times a day. It is an "along the way" kind of teaching style that has worked well so far with our kids. Kara is now a Lipscomb graduate, married to a minister, happy and dedicated to Christ. Duncan is a rock of a young man, steady, thoughtful, strong and able to talk about his faith intelligently. I know that both of them have plenty of time to make horrible mistakes in their lives -- even life ruining mistakes -- but at least they will be equipped to do the right thing should they choose to do so.

Some have asked for some of my "man rules" I pass on to Duncan. Here are some of them. More if you want them.

1. When you enter a room, be the most polite person there. Allow no one to "out nice" you.

2. Be kinder to waitresses and waiters than they are to you. Tip laviously and offer kind words. Treat check out people and warehouse workers as if they were people placed in your path by God to lift up today.

3. Be the kind of man who, when he enters the room, allows everyone there to relax just a little bit more. Be the kind of man who, when he enters the room, those in the room know that they will not be mistreated -- by you or anyone else -- and that they will be shown respect.

4. Live dangerously, but not foolishly. Buck the world and its ways, but wisely. Choose your battles, but once chosen, fight them to the finish, fearlessly.

5. Fear is not an option. Ever.

6. A real man is God's man and is not afraid to meet God. Live your life as if its ending does not frighten you or keep you from doing the right thing. Don't be afraid of dying. Be afraid of not living for Christ.

7. Do what is right because it is right. You need no other reason.

8. Whatever you learn, whatever you earn, all is to be made available for the Lord to use. We are only in these bodies for a little while and, face it -- who ever washes a rental car? So don't be consumed by earthly things. They are too temporary to be of significance to us.

9. Live what you say you believe, and live it out loud.

10. Treat every woman on earth as your mother or your sister. If you don't want your mother or sister mistreated, don't mistreat another man's mother or sister.

... and there are others. More if you want them. Duncan says hello.