Friday, December 28, 2007

A Night At The Movie

Last night Paige, Ellie and I went to a movie. Paige and I used to go to movies all the time, but a child and busier lives have a way of changing that. We went to see "National Treasure: Book Of Secrets." I loved the first National Treasure and, based on some very positive reviews I had read, was anxiously anticipating this one. The movie had a rating of PG so we felt really comfortable taking Ellie with us. It did not disappoint. Yet, again, the very creative plot line and the tie-ins with American history proved to be a very potent combination. I really liked it.

The point I want to make with this post is not a movie review, per se. I want to comment on movie-making- really the whole motion picture industry. Why are there not more movies like National Treasure? It is clearly NOT exclusively a kids movie, but I have seen more objectionable material in the Shrek trilogy than I have seen in the two National Treasure offerings. Whereas in most areas of life, occupying the middle ground is not the preferred, more movies should try. By that I mean you do not have to be all fluff, cartoonish and mind-numbing, nor do you have to have all the violence, language and sexual overtones. You can have thoughtful storylines and good acting in a family-friendly environment.

It was so nice to be able to have Ellie with us. Granted she could not understand every little nuance of the movie, but she could appreciate being with mom and dad, taking in the big screen and enjoying the goodies. Date nights are great and necessary, but, as parents, and if you are one you will understand, sometimes you feel guilty having to leave the little ones at home when you go out to enjoy a movie. Does it have to be that way? If the powers that be understood this, perhaps we would be happier and they would be richer.

Think about some of the top-grossing movies of all time- Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, et al. Some had a little more violence than you would like the kids to see, however, they had a much broader audience appeal than other movies and enjoyed success at the box office that was unparalleled.

Oh well, here's hoping Hollywood reads this.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Your Life Or Your LIFE? Your Choice

Today I came across a video on my home page that caught my attention. It was a CNN news piece on Grant Achatz, a 33-year-old chef at an avant-garde Chicago restaurant called Alinea. Apparently Mr. Achatz is one of the more notable young chefs in the country. Both he and his restaurant have received a great deal of buzz in recent years based on my Google search. The thing that caught my attention, however, had nothing to do with Mr. Achatz prowess in the kitchen or his restaurant.

Mr. Achatz has been diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth, more specifically, the tongue- that is cancer in layman's terms. Imagine for a moment that you are among the elite, young chefs in the nation and you are given the news that you could possibly lose THE most important sense (taste) as it relates to your chosen vocation. Wow!

Many courses of action were bantered about by the different specialists. Most encouraged Mr. Achatz to consider surgically removing the cancerous tissue to give him the best chance of survival. He chose, however, to treat the cancer with radiation and chemotherapy in hopes of reducing the tumors to the point where less invasive surgical procedures could be considered, thus allowing him to possibly salvage his palette and his beloved vocation.

In the interview, the journalist asked Mr. Achatz if he was more concerned for the loss of his career or his life, he did not hesitate to say, "My career, easily. I never thought I was going to die."

As I watched the video and read some subsequent articles, I found myself trying to come up with a correlation to my own life. What sense could I possibly lose that would have that kind of direct effect on my chosen vocation? As a minister of the Gospel / pastor / preacher / clergyman, I am called to basically do one thing- speak a word from God into the lives of others. That takes a variety of forms. I build relationships with students and my volunteers and the extended church family. I am given opportunities to teach and/or preach. On the radio, I am given a microphone and very limited few moments to love people in Jesus name through the air-waves.

After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that the tongue is also my most important element. Not the sense of taste, but my speech. Sure, I could learn sign language, but my audience would be very limited and interpretation quite cumbersome. The next thought I had was the big question- Faced with the prospects of losing my speech or my life, would I be willing to risk it for the sake of the call on my life? What would your answer be?

Think about it. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Santa has come and gone. Packages and paper are scattered about. Hugs and kisses are abounding. Laughter, smiles and warm wishes are the order of the day.

Jesus Is Born.

Hallelujah, Jesus Is Lord!

Merry Christmas to you!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Meanderings

Tis the night before, the night before, the night before Christmas and I really ought to be heading to beddy bye, but my mind is racing so fast I have to get it all out. We had one of our big family get-togethers tonight. I guess you could say it is the big one. It is my mom's side of the family. We have been getting together since before I was born. As we sat around catching up on new business, we also began to reminisce about the days of old (enter Bob Seger segue here.) I have some very fond memories about this most wonderful time of the year.

As I sat and watched all the children opening presents, I began to compile my Top Ten Christmas Memories List. There are certainly many more that could make the list, but they don't call it a Top Ten List for nothing:

10) The Tellico Hills Candlelight Days- When I was a boy growing up in the Tellico Hills/Fairacres area of town, we started the tradition of making and setting out the paper bag candle lights on Christmas Eve. I know there is a name for them, but I can't think of it now. It was a pain hauling sand and setting them out without catching everything on fire, but they were absolutely beautiful at night when it was all said and done. I don't think they do that anymore over there.

9) The 10-Speed Bicycle Christmas- It was the stereotypical Christmas morning mad dash to the living room... and what should my wondering eyes behold, but a bright shiny burnt orange, Schwinn 10-speed bicycle left by Santa himself. I must have been maybe 8-years-old and it was an adult bike. I think the seat hit me about the shoulder, but that was one bad mama jama. I rode that thing for years.

8) The Hunt For The Perfect Tree- When I was a child growing up, my mom did not do Christmas in the conventional sense. If you know my mother you know that she does not do ANYTHING conventionally. We would load up in my dad's Jeep and head out in search of mom's perfect tree. The perfect tree would be totally bare- no needles, no leaves- we're talking sycamore sapling with a nice shape to it. We would scour the roadsides and both public and private property. Come to think of it- we might have broken a few laws.

7) The Perfect Tree Decoration- Mom would get that bare, round tree that had a nice shape to it and totally wrap it in strips of cotton. Then we would wrap it in gold lights and decorate it with all red and gold ornaments. When it was done it was breathtaking. I grew up wondering why everyone else had Fraser Firs.

6) The Log Cabin Playhouse Christmas- This is going back a few. When I was like 6-years-old, Santa brought me a log cabin playhouse. It was nothing more than cardboard shaped into a house with cut outs for windows and doors and painted brown like a log cabin, but to me it was a palace. It also doubled as the Bat Cave and where Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, lived.

5) The Scotch Plaid Boxer Caper- After mom got over her white cotton-wrapped Christmas tree phase, she went into a Fraser Fir and Scotch Plaid phase. The tree and everything in the house and outside the house had to have Scotch Plaid ribbon wrapped or tied all over it. One day as my cousin, Jeff, and I were shopping, we found some Scotch Plaid boxer shorts. During the gift opening stage of our aforementioned big family get-together, we got everyone's attention and did a synchronized dropping of the trousers with a dance added in for good measure. Mom was delighted.

4) The Christmas Dad Cried- It was Christmas 2002. My sister, Mimi, had to have major brain surgery to remove a benign tumor in November. My daughter, Ellie, was born on December 6. By the time Christmas rolled around Mimi was back to normal with absolutely no problems other than a pretty funky haircut and Ellie was a beautiful, healthy baby girl. As we clasped hands to pray before our Christmas dinner, dad was overcome by God's provision with all the above and shed a few tears. I had never seen that before in my life.

3) The First Christmas In Our Own House- When you have your own "crib" and you have to get your own tree and do your own decorating with your own wife- that's pretty special.

2) The First Christmas With Ellie- Those of you with children know that every Christmas with your kids is special and they seem to just get better, but that first one, when they are just tiny, is special. For me, Christmas went to a whole new level. You get a glimpse of what God must have felt like to allow His only Son to slip past Heaven's embrace into a lowly manger.

1) The Christmas Paige Sang "O Holy Night" In The Green Dress- The church sanctuary- the lighting- the fellowship- the sound...whew! There was some kind of harmonic convergence and I knew that I wanted her to be my wife.

These are my memories. You have yours. I also know that for many people Christmas carries with it not-so-good-memories because of abuse, or death, or illness, or some other reason. I pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the mercy, peace and grace necessary to redeem this wonderful time of year for yourself. Ultimately, as cliche as it may seem, it is all about Jesus, the greatest gift ever given. May you feel His love for you all over again this Christmas.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree...

Last weekend the children's ministry of Calvary Baptist Church had a little Christmas Adventure. We gathered together and enjoyed some Christmas pizza, drinks and cookies. Then we loaded everyone up and went to the Fall Branch Christmas Tree Farm. Kudos to Bobby and Beth Westbrook proprietors of the business. We unloaded the vans and they immediately went into action. First they hitched the hay wagon up to the tractor and took us all on hayrides. They brewed up some hot chocolate and hot apple cider and offered us all a chance to roast marshmallows over their bonfire. All of the above was absolutely free of charge!

While on the hayride through the farm, Mr. Westbrook gave us the lowdown on all the varieties of trees they grow and offer. We found out that Fraser Firs, "the Cadillac of Christmas trees," do not grow well below 3500 feet so they are a real challenge at our altitude. But they had more trees than I can remember.

Our purpose in taking the kids to the farm was also ministry related. This upcoming Christmas week, our church has the opportunity to host the Interfaith Hospitality Network families. These are families who, for whatever reason, find themselves homeless and in need of shelter and a hand for a while. Our church has been part of the network for many years. We went to get a tree to put in our activities building, their Christmas home this year. As you can see in the pictures, we finally got it inside and decorated last night.

Many thanks to Tim and Christi Bass, our Pioneer Club leaders, children's ministry laborers and my great friends. Our church benefits from your service in more ways than you can imagine!

And if you need a tree next year, you would do well to give the Fall Branch Christmas Tree Farm your business. It is hard to find people who go that far out of their way to serve others. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

So What's Your Favorite Part Of The Christmas Story?

My friend, Kim Luethke, shared this little anecdote from her experience this past Saturday night as she was helping to lead a children's small group lesson at her church.

She was asking questions of the children regarding the biblical story from Luke 2 and a video that had been shown relating to the nativity scene. When she came to one particular 4th grade boy, she asked, "So what is your favorite part of the Christmas story?"

He looked up after a short pause and said, "The part where the leg lamp breaks."

So if you have been under a rock for many years and do not get this, please take time this Christmas season and watch "A Christmas Story." Then you can laugh at this.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Greatest Gift Of All

One of the perks of being on staff in a church is being invited to all the Christmas parties.  Some would think that is a drag, but I love my church folk and we have great times together. Last Friday night, Paige and I attended one of the Sunday school class parties.  In this particular class, one tradition in particular has surfaced.

Several years ago one of the class members, C.B. Shanks, a master woodworker, began the tradition of making a wooden toy train set for the gift draw.  This quickly became the most prized gift. The game is played in which everyone draws a number and you select a gift in order, stealing gifts that had been previously drawn if so desired.  Needless to say, each year the train went back and forth before finally settling with a lucky family.

This year, however, was different. This year C.B. and his wife, Ina, went above and beyond.  Ina, a fantastic seamstress in her own right, made a beautiful apron for every woman (and staff wife) in the class.  On top of that, C.B. made a wooden object for each family.  There were cutting boards, birdhouses, clocks, coin banks, and many other things.  We brought home a beautiful bubble gum machine.  We were all taken aback by the sacrifice of time and energy to make all those beautiful things.  According to the Shanks', the motivating factor was their love for their church family.

What do you presume was God's motivating factor for sacrificing his Son?  I am not talking about Easter either. Because of God's love for us, all of us, He sent His Son to us that very first Christmas.  From the most humble of beginnings, through trial and temptation, through pain, grief, and struggle, and finally, to the most unspeakable of deaths, God loved us with His Son, Jesus.  Don't forget His great love for you.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened At The Slopes...

So Paige and I are minding our own business, catching some wicked air and carving up the powder at Beech the other day, when Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel comes up to us and says, "Man, I didn't know dudes your size could move like that, and she is incredible! I was asked to host a special episode of 'Epic Conditions' and we sure would like for you guys to do some of those killer tricks for us."

So we obliged. We're in negotiations about some future collaborations now, but you can see some of the raw footage here:

Tiger and Paige's "Epic Conditions" Shoot

Ironically, it is released today, on Paige's Birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetie!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

100% Steroid-Free Blog, Guaranteed!

In the immortal words of Charlie Brown-"Good grief!" The Mitchell Report on steroids in Major League Baseball was released today and is dominating the airwaves on all my favorite talk-radio outlets. I am so tired of hearing about steroids, HGH and other things in sports. Abuse is abuse. You don't hear anyone discussing the prevalent, even excessive use of alcohol in the stadiums, arenas and locker rooms. Yet, more people are injured and killed do to the abuse of that drug than die because of "roid rage." I kind of like seeing a player lay the wood to one for about 550 feet, or some 38-year-old pitcher bringing the heater at about 98 mph to retire the side and secure the victory. Okay, okay, I obviously don't want anyone risking their health for my entertainment, but I often wonder if steroids might be able to give me a competitive edge like it does other athletes.

Now I know I can hit a ball pretty good, but no matter how much "juice" I shoot into this 27-acre body of mine, it would still take me a half hour to make it to first base. Obviously, I am not talking about a sports advantage. I am talking about my ministry. Perhaps I would have to blog in fonts this size if I were to rub on some of "the clear." Maybe my recovery time would be shortened and I could post every day, maybe twice a day! It would be great if I could swallow something that would positively affect my memory and allow me to remember all those 50-cent theological words I learned in seminary so as to spice up my blogs, bible study lessons and sermons.

Then again, maybe not.

Seriously, though, there definitely are some things Christ-followers can do to "juice up" and gain a competitive advantage over the Adversary in our battle for souls, for Kingdom advance and in our efforts to live THE life. First, we have to ADOPT a lifestyle of worship. Striving to do everything with an obedient attitude and awareness of Christ's working in our lives. Second we have to ABIDE. John 15:5-8 describes the process of our abiding in Jesus and His abiding in us and the fruit that springs forth from that relationship. Finally, we have to ABSTAIN from activities, acquaintances, and anemic attitudes that weaken our resolve and draw us off the right path.

With the kind of "Jesus Juice" I have described here, one can really "pump up" their faith life.

God bless and happy juicing!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Latte Laodicea

Kingsport joined the ranks of up and coming cities a few weeks ago. The new Target store brought with it a Starbucks. Now die-hard coffee fans know that Meadowview Conference Resort actually opened a Starbucks stand in their lobby a few years back, but I think the moon has to be in a certain phase and barometric pressure has to be above 27 mb before they actually open for business. We get a stand-alone Starbucks in a few weeks which is even closer to my house. I like Starbucks. I got hooked on high-quality, gourmet coffee while attending seminary and enjoying Boiling Springs, North Carolina's famous Broad River Coffee Co. every single day I was there. Starbucks is now my new crack house. Think about it- they really are!

Anyway, today I met a couple of ministry colleagues at Starbucks for coffee and a chat. For this story to make sense you also need to know that today, December 11, 2007 it was 70 degrees in Kingsport (sorry Jason). I broke a sweat walking from my truck to the front door of the place. Crazy. So the real dilemma we faced as we were making our decisions on what to order was whether or not to get our favorite coffee beverage hot or iced. Iced coffee is the new black. It is in vogue. That may come as a shock to most East Tennesseans who only know coffee as being a cup of JFG that is served at a moderate 525 degrees. So we were standing in line, waffling back and forth on hot vs. iced, when a thought came to me. Another one of those stream of consciousness deals again (see previous post from two days ago).

Both hot and iced coffees are pretty tasty, but have you ever slurped up a mouthful of room temperature coffee? Nasty does not quite describe it! I was in my office the other day reading and reached for my coffee without even thinking that it had been sitting there for 2 hours. I literally wanted to spit it out as soon as it reached my tongue. It makes me think of the church at Laodicea. The apostle John addressed his letter (what has become known as the Book of The Revelation) to seven churches in the Asian provinces. In chapters two and three we read what John has dictated from our Lord, Jesus Christ- admonitions, observations, warnings and praise directed toward the seven individual churches. The last of which is directed toward the church in Laodicea and prove to be some of the most scathing remarks of them all. Jesus says in verses 15 and 16, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Wow!

In this context cold would describe those who have not yet been exposed to or made a decision for Christ. Hot would describe those who have been warmed by the Gospel message and fanned into flame by an abiding relationship with Jesus. Laodiceans were neither. This probably means they were aware of Jesus, had been exposed to Him, but had decided to remain noncommittal. Sound like anyone you know? Those on both extremes know where they stand. Those choosing to occupy the middle ground are in dangerous territory.

Perhaps they choose to adopt a Christ-like lifestyle with all the morality and values that go along with that and , yet, remain separate from an abiding relationship with Him and His church. It is easy to get to the point where they think they are "safe" because of good works or because they are, generally-speaking, "nice people." The problem is, that is NOT good enough. We cannot be good enough. That is the whole reason for Christmas. God knew we were not and could not be good enough, so He sent His Son to us.

The good news is that later on in the same chapter Jesus says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." You have never gone too far and it is never too late with Jesus! He will come to you again, and again, just as He came to all of us 2000 years ago. My prayer is that you will open the door.

Now, excuse me while I go get some more coffee.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cantata Crunch Time

The Christmas Cantata.  Say those words to any church choir member in early December and you probably get a reaction anywhere from rolling of eyes to a slightly muffled guttural utterance that no one would ever claim as a curse.  While sitting in one of many Saturday morning choir rehearsals today, I figured out that I have been singing in church choir on a regular basis for 20 years. When you think about it, that is a lot of lost December Saturday productivity.  No wonder I still do most of my shopping on Christmas eve.  Okay, maybe that is a bit of a stretch. 

Our choir is singing a cantata entitled, "Christmas Is Jesus."  While rehearsing one of the songs today, I had a very interesting stream of consciousness journey.  Do you ever do that?  You are minding your own business, focusing on some task at hand and before you know it, one thought leads to another and you are somewhere in another place and another time.  I will try to retrace my steps .

First, we were singing a song called, "Your Presence For Christmas," with the obvious play on words indicating that we want Christ's presence as a present more so than anything or anyone else.  There is one particular melody line in the song that is nearly identical to "My Way" as done by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.  When I made that realization, my body instinctively went into Elvis mode: lip quiver, hip shake, and leg twist followed by the Kung Fu pose.  Then the journey began.

"How ironic that we are singing about Jesus in a cantata that proclaims that "Christmas Is Jesus" and this song reminds me of "My Way?"   "I did it my way...."  Is that not just like Christmas nowadays?  We do it our way.  Christmas is made to be what we want it to be.  It is no longer about celebrating the birth of the Christ child or contemplating the ramifications of Emmanuel, God with us.  Now people don't even want Christ in their Christmas, er uh... excuse me "Holidays."  Happy Holidays!  Puhlease!"  

"On top of that, Elvis is the one who made "My Way" famous.  Elvis, The King.  Rather than remember and acknowledge God's greatest gift, His Son, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, we ascribe to people and things the place of honor in our lives.  Christmas has become all about what gifts I can receive... and even the constant consideration of what gifts we are going to give other people borders on the idolatrous when we lose sight of the One who should take sole (or is it soul) possession and position on the throne of our lives."

It was midway through the next song before I came back to myself, and the choir loft.  Every year about this time I promise myself that I am going to slow down, stop chasing Christmas and just let it come, naturally.  I challenge you to do the same.  As cliche as it may sound, why don't we make a concerted effort to keep Jesus as the reason for the season.  Enjoy the lights, the sights and the sounds, but keep your eyes on prize, better yet, The Gift... Jesus Christ.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

And A Mighty Wind Was Present

This past weekend my youth group, The Underground Student Ministry Corps., went on an advance. I think retreat sends the wrong message, so we had an advance. We went to The Oaks Retreat Center in Greeneville, TN. I highly recommend the facility to any church or company wishing to hold any kind of event or team building experience.

I began planning this event about two and half months ago and was wanting really badly to get all my kids there. But as the weekend approached, one by one, they began to drop out. There were sporting events, dance rehearsals, work obligations and a plethora of other excuses. Some were grounded for disciplinary problems and others just decided they plain-ol didn't want to go. However, deposits were paid, plans were made and the show must go on. But as I headed down the highway Friday with only 11 folks in tow, I have to admit I was pretty down-hearted.

Upon arrival, I was encouraged by the quality of the facilities and the wonderful spirit exhibited by Rex and Sherri Oster and their family, the directors of The Oaks. I had arranged for my friend and fellow divinity school alum, Steven Staton, to come down from his church in Ohio and teach the sessions so anticipating seeing him again also bolstered my spirit.

The theme for the weekend could best be described as authenticity in our Christian walk- living Christ and all that entails. It was obvious from the first session on Friday night that God had shown up. The kids were listening intently and our fellowship together was enjoyable. Saturday we were able to try out the 400 ft. zip line and do some team building exercises on the low ropes course.

Saturday night things got interesting. Early in the evening the wind picked up dramatically. We were meeting in a large gym and the gusts sounded like a freight train roaring by at times. It went on and on and on. After we all retired to our rooms for the night, the wind still roared outside. When we awoke the next morning the evidence of the windy activity was obvious. There were drifts of leaves piled up on the large porch, overturned rocking chairs and downed limbs and trees. We found out that the geography of the camp greatly increases the force of the wind and that it was a normal occurrence.

Reflecting on the weekend now, I know that the high speed wind gusts experienced Saturday night did not compare with the real mighty Wind that blew through our lives during this three day advance. The Pneuma (Greek word used to describe the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and literally means "wind") was at work. From my personal observations and testimonies from many of those students and adults in attendance, much was learned and spiritual growth was experienced.

Many thanks to Steven for the wonderful job you did in communicating the Word. Thanks to the Osters for being great hosts and great cooks. Thanks to Paige and Becky Hill for helping me hold down the fort. Thanks also to C.J., Zach, Deuce, Todd, L.B., Amber, Kimberly, Dylan and Joey for stretching yourselves and sharing your lives with me. Finally, thanks be to the Father, Son and Mighty Wind for demonstrating Your power and your sovereignty in our lives

Monday, December 3, 2007

That's My Girl!

A few days ago we brought in some barbecued ribs from 12 Bones, a new restaurant in downtown Kingsport.  We weren't sure just how Ellie would take to them, but as you can see from the photograph, she takes after her Daddy.

I really can't explain the picture to the right other than to say it looks like she has a little Captain in her.

Have a great Monday.