Permit a Wee Money Rant …

Our dear local newspaper begins an article (opinion page) with this statement, “The Lord rested on the seventh day. And sometimes it appears that churches, having done their work on Day 7 rest for the other six.”

So local journalists, why do you need to do that? God forbid you miss an opportunity at taking a shot at Christians, even while writing to applaud one – the article praising the good work of the departing Salvation Army director.

On the same day is another article about my own Hagerstown Rotary Club, which gave away $63,000 to local non-profits – representing the distributions of funds raised over the past year. Within the article is this statement, “Since its inception in 1980, the Hagerstown Rotary Club has raised more than $1.6 million for more than 120 nonprofit organizations.”  This is all very commendable, and I am not knocking it as insignificant.

In reflection over my 19 years at Tri-State Fellowship (beginning here on the 4th Sunday of June in 1994), our church has simply given away about two million dollars to missions and benevolent causes near and far. And in our own lean financial times and while facing our budget for the coming fiscal year, this seems at first glance like a crazy activity to have done. It is a number that roughly equals the amount we have spent on all land and building acquisitions over the same time. Imagine if you personally gave away amounts equal to your mortgage and value of your home. Well, some of you reading this have probably done that … and done it through TSF … which explains why we were able to have done what we did.

Our rewards for giving as unto the Lord are not to be realized in this world – certainly not through a media that generally despises people of faith. It is not even surprising when we take a shot of false accusation, as Jesus said it would occur … “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”  And Peter said to live such good lives amongst the people of this world, that though they may criticize you, your good deeds would be more than obvious.

Yep, yep… but I did find it annoying.

Advertisements

Structurally Obsolete – I Can Relate!

With a son who is a structural engineer working for a firm designing bridges, whenever I see a news story about a bridge collapse, it catches my eye. There is one such account in the news today about a bridge section that fell into a river yesterday in Washington State – north of Seattle. A truck accident caused the failure, which involved a couple of vehicles unable to stop and thereby plunging into the stream.

But here is the part of the story that caught my eye and … well … I found a bit offensive actually…

Bridge collapse in Washington State

Bridge collapse in Washington State

The bridge was not classified as structurally deficient, but a Federal Highway Administration database listed it as being “functionally obsolete” — a category meaning that the design is outdated … The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80 … but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.

Hey, I take offense to this since I was also “built” in 1955!  Well, I guess I should take some encouragement from this, because, like the bridge, though I’m not currently rated as “structurally deficient” (meaning “dead”), I guess my horribly aching knees acknowledge that I am “structurally obsolete.”  That is a sanitary engineer-esque way of saying you’re “getting old and out of date.”

And like the bridge, which will have the broken section replaced with some artificial structure, I guess that is what awaits my knees … ugh!

One thing for sure, my bridge engineer son will never be without a job … nor will any orthopedic surgeon doing knee replacements. But when you think about it, they actually are both structural engineers.

French Christians and Church Life

During our recent trip to Europe, it was a most interesting experience to visit with a church group that our son Jesse had become acquainted over his semester in France. It was truly a fantastic bunch of people. Jesse took the bold step of seeking out this church group through a contact from our (Tri-State Fellowship) French friends Tsiry and Barbara Andria.

The church is made up of about 100-125 people who meet in a facility that is located in a sort of shopping mall setting – like a strip mall of parallel rows. We went to a Saturday evening fellowship dinner that was an outreach event, having the specific goal of church people inviting their friends to hear a program consisting of several sketches, videos, and a message. I was able to understand and recall enough of my high school and college French to catch the basic idea of the program. They talked about how the world faces political and economic crises, but that the spiritual crisis faced by sin is actually a bigger problem – that though empires and great leaders have come and gone, only a relationship with Christ can fix the real problem faced by everyone. It was excellent.

IMG_0364On Sunday afternoon we attended a luncheon featuring a gathering of the young adults of the church at the home of a truly delightful college girl. Her parents prepared the meal, replete with course after course of appetizers, portions of the meal, and several rounds of desserts. So there were four “old people” there between the hosts and Diana and me … along with 16 young adults ranging in age from a couple of high school students through those in their mid 20s. It was a very, very sharp group of folks – as this area of France is essentially in what is the “Silicon Valley” equivalent to California.

The mother of the girl hosting the gathering spoke English quite well, as did a number of the young adults. All together, this group really helped Jesse with his French speaking skills – as the classes at the University Jesse attended were taught in English, so he was not getting more proficient through that.

One of the men of the church that I had met on Saturday evening – a fellow with both a French and American background – told me that the history of the church was “Brethren.”  I immediately presumed it was not any sort of Brethren that we may know of in the Tri-State area, but rather a group with British connections known as “Plymouth Brethren” … with a most prominent name of John Nelson Darby – sometimes also known as Darbyism. This was very interesting to me for a variety of reasons. Though there is no direct line or connection, many of the thoughts of Darby were further defined (I would say more accurately) by C.I. Scofield (of the famous Scofield Reference Bible and founder of my college) and popularized by the many well-known teachers associated with Dallas Theological Seminary. (The theological system is known as dispensationalism, and was much the foundation of my family’s faith system and love of Scripture.) Beyond that, Darbyists and Plymouth Brethren were known for the distinct views of shared/plural eldership and open meetings – for open sharing and teaching of Scripture. The former of these has always been a core value of TSF, while the latter was also to some extent in the early years when the church was small enough for this to be practical. This entire discussion with our hosts – filled with lots of translations by the more bilingual of the group – was very much of interest and engagement by a number of the young adults. It did not “blow over their heads.”

What I believe I saw in this church was the future of the effective church in America. We are, by all visible indicators, headed toward a totally secular, post-Christian, pluralistic society such as is in place today in France. But here in Antibes, France … on the Cote d’Azur (the French Riviera) is a group of Christians who are jointly members of a rather suspect minority in the culture. They are doing life together, almost in a 1st Century sort of way. There is a felt need for dependence and inter-dependence. The fact is that we all have the same need even in America, but we just don’t yet feel it quite so keenly. This church was a multiple generation church; and I continue to believe that this is the most successful model for true church growth that will be measured in terms of faithfulness and depth of ministry, rather than in numbers of people and flash and pizzazz. This sort of church takes work and personal and intentional commitment – probably well beyond what most of us are actively experiencing and living in terms of a covenant community relationship with one another. It is increasingly my conviction that we must do this or be essentially flushed by the coarsening culture.

IMG_0355

Becoming a Total Drunk Lately!

Yes, I’m on the way to decline. In the past several weeks, I have almost doubled my entire lifetime consumption of alcohol. It’s sadly true. (Of course, you probably used more water to brush your teeth this morning than all I’ve ever swallowed of the stuff!)

Incident #1 – While in Texas I visited a church that had communion. Before I realized what was going down around me, down went a cup of real wine instead of the evangelically-approved Welch’s Grape Juice. Dreadful stuff! Oh my!

Incident #2 – I was with my dear friend Jim Warner at a dinner on the evening of his 40th-year celebration of being released from 5.5 years of incarceration in a North Vietnamese prisoner camp. He bought a bottle of champagne for a toast “to freedom.” Without doubt, the occasion was bigger than my scruples, so, I lifted the glass and participated in the worthy honor of the moment. Oh my! Is that what is meant by something being very “dry?”

Incident #3 – I won a six-pack of beer in a bet with a friend. I was at a political convention where a person was making a floor speech. The guy next to me remarked that this young man was the same who had spoken at the previous convention and made a terrible fool of himself. Knowing for a fact that he was not, I said that “no” it was a different person. My friend, being convinced that he was correct said, “I’ll bet you a case of beer on it!”  I knew I would not lose, so I took the bet!  At a break, we verified with the speaker that indeed I was correct and that he was not the foolish fellow of some months before. I had forgotten about the bet until my friend brought me a six-pack of “ginger beer.”  More dreadful stuff.

Explanation #1 – Lots of people presume that my anti-alcohol stance is due to some experience of trauma from a drunken family – not at all … I cannot name a relative that I know who ever drank anything. If my distaste is from childhood, it is actually from a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. While descending the stairs at the old Connie Mack stadium to get a hot dog when I was about maybe 8-9 years old, a Philadelphia drunk turned the corner and threw a whole cup of beer onto me. I was wearing a wool sweater, and oh my, did it ever stink for hours! I was nearly literally nauseated to the point of barfing from the smell. Ever since then, I can smell the slightest whiff of alcohol at a great distance in the same way that sharks are able to smell blood in water. I’m not proud of this talent. But that experience totally sickened me to any curiosity about imbibing.

Explanation #2 – I hate the predominance of alcohol in our culture. The ill effects are daily in the news as roots of multiple tragedies. Though I know this is nothing new – dating back to Noah’s family at least – it seems to me so very unnecessary. So, my summary line remains, “Though I grant the freedom of conscience for the Christian to consume, I completely dispute the wisdom, and I submit the highest virtue is abstinence” …. Well, at least relatively so. If you disagree with me … oh well, we probably agree together on a greater number of issues.

Curiosities about Writing and Blogging

Most of my blog writing energies have lately gone into my other sites for which I contribute quite a lot of material. There are few people who write more than I do, and even my mega-writing associate pastor – who can throw words on a page faster than anyone I’ve ever known – has found that his many writing demands have doomed his own personal blog in recent months.

I like writing so much that I could almost enjoy doing it simply for my own enjoyment – a sort of journaling that likely no other person will ever read. There is some measure of this that I do in the realms of spiritual disciplines and in the act of the organization of personal thoughts and even frustrations and anger (dare I confide?). Yet when one puts something out there for the world to see, one hopes there are some people who indeed read it and find it either enjoyable or informative.

For those who have never done this sort of thing, there are ways of seeing how many people actually look at what you post. I am almost always surprised by some of what I observe in blog statistics – either high or low numbers … as well as people who sign up to regularly get blog posts. Particularly with this blog that often features theologically evangelical themes, many of those who register when I have a post that is simply something humorous in my world, must really wonder what in the world they are reading when I go gospel on them.

My Civil War blog (EnfiladingLines.com) actually has grown to have a fairly large following and is picked up and repeated in a variety of other places. My Orioles network blog is probably read by several hundred people whenever I write something.

But the biggest chunk of writing currently is going toward supplemental resources for our Sunday teaching series – daily posts that go along with the weekly theme and a Scripture reading program. There were 40 of them with a recently ended series (ReviveTSF.org) and there are going to be a total of 30 with the newly-initiated series (CrossWordsTSF.org). On the one hand, I am very blessed and encouraged by people near and far who read them and have made comment to me that it has enriched them – like hearing this week from a guy who is a pitching coach in the Orioles organization and is reading them from Florida. But on the other hand, though many more people in the church are involved this time than previously, still it would appear that a significant percentage of folks simply have no interest in giving time to such a supplemental resource. I am truly baffled by that. I think this has some illustration about horses and water and what they will or won’t drink – if you know what I’m getting at.

Though not the biggest thing, one thought that encourages me to write on is that perhaps grandkids (or beyond), who I will likely never really know, may someday in curiosity read what this old guy had to say, and maybe they’ll be helped by something. I would certainly love to read what ancestors wrote about anything … but maybe as with liking to write, this too is an area where I am entirely out of step with the rest of the world.

OK… that’s enough introspection for a while.

Living and Dying Things

Sometimes I just have to brag about my family. Our clothes washer just plain stopped working last week – like, nothing! It would not turn on. So, this is intolerable, since Caleb does more laundry than … well … ah … we never got to have a girl, as you know. But, his clothing has to not only be clean, it has to smell a certain way – like it does when he has gotten laundry back from Scott’s house, where Mrs. Long has chosen the world’s best fabric softener (which for the record is Downey). Anyhow … back to the broken machine. As you all also know, I have no patience with broken devices, machines, tractors, autos, etc. So, my wife researches it online, finds the components to fix it, has them expedited to the house, tears apart the electronics and replaces the circuitry to fix the dumb thing! I admit that I thought it was quite impressive.IMG_0244[1]

Since I’m naming guilty people in this post, I’ll name my fellow marathon-running buddy of the past – Bill Seiple – with whom I ran about 10,000 miles. You get to really know someone when you do that, especially when you are oxygen-depleted and you begin to talk about stuff you’d likely not say if you were in your right mind. We were both pretty amazed that we married well. He always said it was a man’s duty to marry up and improve his genetics. Well, he sure did that with Didi (as you New Jersey people can testify). And the truth is that I’ve done the same with Diana. She is pretty amazing with what she can do – like fix computers and washing machines, run businesses and deal with the IRS.

IMG_0246[1]OK, I’ve had the same clock for decades. It is the one that was sitting on the nightstand when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. In those days, I worked evenings at United Parcel Service and would get home very late at night. Dallas Seminary was not a place for the faint-hearted when it came to academics, and the assignments had piled up on me. One evening, I knew I had hours of work ahead of me to finish a paper for the next morning. I also knew I’d be depressed if I was aware what time it really was, so, I set the alarm for the necessary time to get up, and I turned the clock around so that I could not see what time I would actually go to bed. After a number of hours of finishing the paper (on a typewriter!) I took a shower, got in bed, pulled up the covers, and at that instant the alarm rang. Well, that was quite an insult, and in that instant I smashed the snooze with a full-fisted ka-bamb! Somehow the clock survived… until yesterday. I guess the thought of facing another change to daylight savings time was more than it could endure in its dotage.

<Hold the presses!>  Late breaking story – I went to get a picture of it, and it is working again! This proves MY view of broken things – that may well have worked for the washer. If you give it enough time, it will fix itself! So, for example, with the car – just turn up the radio, and eventually the screechy noise will go away.DSC_0135 (1024x665)

And finally, there is Lucifer. I wrote about this on Facebook yesterday. He is my one surviving rooster. I’m not sure what happened to the other one; he just kinda disappeared recently. But my guess now is that he and Lucifer – who is a Black Jersey Giant breed – had a big fight. And though the other one was dominant all along, Lucifer had his day. NOW, Lucifer has decided that I am the next one who needs to be eliminated. He has decided to attack me whenever I’m not looking. Well, this really irritates me to be quite honest. I’m there bringing he and his 25 girls food and water, and HE is going to attack ME while I’m doing it!?!  So, we had quite a fight yesterday. I had a plastic milk jug in my hand when he made a rush at me – winging through the air with claws and spurs flying. He hit me pretty good a couple of times, but on most attacks I whacked him across the face with the jug – like 20-25 times before he finally gave up. I think I won the fight, but I was exhausted from it. If this keeps up, he is going to get to meet his father the Devil.

So, nothing lasts forever; but at our house, things are given a shot to last as long as they can.

Enough Brisket BBQ For A While!

So … 4 days in Texas, 4 BBQ dinners! First was Dickey’s in Richardson with my niece and her husband on Saturday night; next was Spring Creek Barbeque in Dallas with the Texas family for Sunday lunch; yesterday was a welcome luncheon of the same at the host church for my conference; and finally tonight at Rudy’s Barbeque in Austin with two of my pals – Guy Kneebone from Urbana (yes, from Maryland), and Joel Sutton from Minneapolis.

Here are some pictures from tonight. The place has a lot of interesting signs and hangings on the wall (very Texan-like), and they had a ribs-eating contest while we were there (though we did not participate).

IMG_0230[1]

 

 

 

IMG_0229[1]

IMG_0231[1]IMG_0232[1]IMG_0234[1]IMG_0235[1]IMG_0238[1]

IMG_0239[1]