Friday, December 1, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Contrary to many of my conservative friends I am not going to tell you to jettison most of the trapping of Christmas that we have managed to accumulate over the years. I will tell you that many of them have made it harder to focus on the real significance of Christmas and why we celebrate. These days it really is harder to focus on the real significance of the season but it is not impossible.

I am pretty sure our economy would take a severe hit if we were to actually do some of the things suggested by Christmas purists. A sudden stop in Christmas shopping would put many medium and small business out of business. These small stores rely upon the Christmas shopper to put their businesses in the black at year’s end. In fact, I am going to suggest that you shop as long as you can afford and that you do it with local businesses.

However, just because your American Express card has no spending limit doesn’t mean you
shouldn't show some restraint. Let the Christmas song The Twelve Days of Christmas serve as a reminder of what can happen at Christmas if you don’t have a spending plan . . . . . you end up with a lot of debt and a bunch of senseless gifts (BTW - I’ll take the 5 gold rings).  I suggest you lead with your heart but that you don’t leave your brain at home as you shop for the people you love.

As a kind of aside to the Christmas shopping let me suggest that you find a way to express your spirit of giving by making a gift to a charity that directly affects people who are (1) either in great need (that should be easy in our area given the effects of Hurricane Harvey); (2) actively serving the Lord in some ministry; or (3) giving to some ministry that ministers to those who have spent their lives in Christian Ministry . . . . for this one I like Mission:Dignity.

I also encourage those who like to decorate their homes and yards for the Christmas Season that you do so. I for one enjoy looking at them. Let me suggest that you keep the Season in mind as you decorate. It is after all the Christmas Season which is born out of the Christian celebration of Jesus the Christ’s birth. Among your wonderful wreaths and trees be sure and include displays that portray the various events in His life . . . . . . the trip to Bethlehem, His actual birth, the Wise Men’s (Magi) visit, and other scenes from his life and death. All are appropriate for such a celebration. I think too that one should include themes of Hope, Joy, Celebration and Redemption.

Another thing that I believe would make for a better Christmas spirit in spite of the hustle and bustle of the season is to fill your home with Christmas music.  Oh it is fine to include the secular Christmas songs. White Christmas is a perennial favorite as is Rudolf the Reindeer. We use our electronic friend Alexa to play Christmas carols and hymns.  I believe that when we surround ourselves with the symbols and sounds of the season our mood is affected in a way that makes us friendlier, happier, and just plain feel better.  Unabashedly greet folks with “Merry Christmas” and maybe follow that with “I hope you have a happy holiday.”

Personally, while I like all the things thus far suggested, my favorite time is what I refer to as the “Gathering .”  The Gathering refers to the day our family gathers as a clan. It is a time when we gather with our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We warmly welcome extended family (cousins) who are able to join us. I am also of the opinion that if we have a family Christmas Dinner we invite a friend who would otherwise be spending Christmas alone. It is a symbolic way of saying that unlike the inn that had no room for Jesus we have room for Him in our house . . . . He being represented by our invited guest(s). Now understand that if you exchange gifts at the Gathering you will need one for the invited guests even if it is just a token.

Above everything keep in mind Christmas is a time of goodwill toward each other and peace among us. So, at least for the season, lay aside any outstanding grievances and just enjoy each others company.  Tell stories of Christmases past; share hopes for the future; read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke; and above all thank God for his wonderful gift of His Son through whom all have access to redemption and eternal life.

If for some reason you don’t get what you wanted as a gift or you get something that reflects little thought on the part of the giver or you get a gift that is a re-gifting of what you gave the giver last year don’t whine and complain. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad knowing that “great is your reward in heaven” and at least you were in someone’s thoughts and included in their celebration.

Now, if for some reason, you must spend the holiday alone, or something causes you to have great sadness (loss of loved one during the season, etc.) please try and keep in mind that as a Christian you are never alone.  Jesus said, “And lo I am with you always even unto the end of the ages” and that He will never forsake or abandon you.  Then, volunteer to work in one of the Charities that feed and clothe the homeless on Christmas Day.

What I am telling you is . . . . . your Christmas will be what you make it and I am encouraging you to make it . . . . . so make it a Christ centered one. Why, well for starters it is the celebration of the day when unto us was “born this day in the city of Bethlehem a Savior which is Christ the Lord.”

Thursday, November 30, 2017

I Want To Invite You Take A Trip With Me

I have listened to all the repulsion and vented anger people are spewing over the sexual misconduct of certain powerful people. All sorts of sentiments are being expressed. For the most part I am cool with that.

I am not sure I understand everything I hear since sexual “misconduct” seems to include everything from incident/accidental touching to outright rape and everything in-between. So I guess, we are adopting the same standard on this that was adopted in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for pornography when he said, “I know it when I see it.”

The phrase is a colloquial expression to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters.  I first came to understand this back in the 1980's when I had a lady come by to talk to me about someone who was touching her inappropriately. When I asked her just what that meant she replied, “He puts his hand on my arm when he talks with me.” Surprised I said, “But I have done that myself and never give it a thought.” she quickly said, “That is not what I am talking about. We you take my hand or touch my arm its not the same as when this person does it.”  I confess I was really getting confused until she said, “Brother David, there is touching and then there is touching.”  I later asked my wife about it and she said, “I know exactly what she means.”

You see my touching communicated care and concern while this other man communicated something far more intimate. The physical actions were identical except my touching was appropriate and his was inappropriate. This lady could not clearly define the parameters that made one touch acceptable and rendered the other inappropriate . . . . .  and yet she could tell the difference. This was a case of “I know it when I feel it.”  Truth is, I have no way of know what the man had in his heart and mind but I needed to help her deal with the issue and put a stop to it. Suffice it to say it was resolved and over time the man was made aware that such touching was unwanted and unappreciated. His dilemma is that it is a subjective thing and you never know whether the issue begins in the heart and mind of the toucher or the one touched.

I said all that to say that while we may not always be able to quantify inappropriate sexual behavior we all know it when we see it. The trick is separating the intentional from the unintentional. Easy in sever cases less evident in minor instances. Not all sexually inappropriate touching is created equal or requires the same responses.

Now to what started this train of thought: 

But when I read "Going to Church" right now on the Matt Lauer situation is exact reason why workplace harassment lives and thrives, . . . . " I want to just scream! If the people involved had been "Going to Church" a bit more and taken Christianity a little more seriously perhaps none of these lives would be going through such trauma.

Our nation has drifted so far from its Judeo-Christian roots that it has completely forgotten the “Rock from which it was hewn.” All of this can be traced to a movement embodied in Joseph Fletcher’s book Situation Ethics.  Little by little starting in the 1960's with Gabriel Vahanian (Syracuse) whose 1961 book, The Death of God, gave the movement its name. This was followed by Baptist Harvey Cox’s (Harvard Divinity School) paperback, The Secular City (1965). Next came Thomas J. J. Altizer’s, (Emory University) The New Essence of Christianity. Finally there was Paul M. Van Buren’s (Temple University) The Secular Meaning of the Gospel. These men and the movement they started has resulted in large measure to the secularization of Christianity in America and the outright rejection of moral absolutism.

Thanks to the men mentioned in the previous paragraph and others like them we as a society and nation have pretty much decided in the name of "Freedom from Religion" that the Christian Faith was outdated and irrelevant to our times. Beginning with their influence and that of their disciples we began a steady drift from the moral and ethical principles that hold a society together. If, and that's a big if, we were living by the "Thus saith the Lord" of the Bible there would be far fewer instances of inappropriate sexual behavior because there would be far fewer people without a moral center.

In generations past not everyone lived according to the principles of Scripture but they did acknowledge that the Bible set the moral and ethical standards for human behavior.  There were fixed (absolute) standards and those standards were derived from the Bible. Bad things happened but society responded with a strong hand. Ministers prior to the 1960's never dealt much with the psycho-theological aspects of the Gospel and rightly so.  Basically their message was to society was : (1) Here is the standard, I.E., the Bible,  (2) you are coming short of that standard, I.E., you are a sinner (3) only God can meet the standard, I.E., is sinless and holy, (4) In Jesus He does just that, I.E., meets the standard of the Bible, (5) When an individual repents of his sin and profess that Jesus is Lord he receives a new nature that is empowered to resist sin. In short, the preached and relied upon a supernatural transformation that had the power to change the human core (heart).

As a result of the God is Dead movement and the Secularization of Christianity our society eventually adopted a moral value system built on the shifting sand of human reason and relativism. This system is doomed to fail and destined to produce such behavior as we are reading about in our papers daily. We have sown to the wind and of that sowing we have reaped a whirlwind.

As early as 1988 Psychiatrist Karl Menninger was asking "Whatever Happened to Sin?" He understood the direction were had chosen as a society and he knew next to go would be Virtue then Friendship and finally Happiness in the Moral Life. The end of the matter is that now everyone does whatever is right in their own eyes . .. eyes blinded by sin

We shut the God of love out of our society; we have decided we no longer needed a God because in our humanity we can create a Great Society. Well, all we have managed to do is created a time of great trouble and replace the hope in our heart with fear.

You don't like what your reading and hearing then just wait . . .it can get worse and it will get worse . . . in fact it will bring us down into the dust. "The wages of sin is death" is an Absolute.

I believe it was Pogo who said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." "But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death."

I abhor, detest and despise what these men have done and I grieve for all the lives that have endured the pain of being the victims of these men's sin. I don't know what the short term answer is but in the long run the only real fix is found in the offer God has extended to us when he said to humanity, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will heal their land."

There is a place in Judea mention frequently in the Bible as the place where Jacob first encountered God personally.  Bethel is about twelve miles north of Jerusalem. I remember standing there in 1973 and thinking what a bleak place. It is 1200 feet above sea level, windy and covered with large rocks.  It was not a comfortable place but it was where Jacob spent the night as he fled his brother. As years past Jacob (later Isaac) would return to this place to get things sorted out spiritually in his life. He would return to the place where he first met God personally.

There is an old fashioned word that needs to be brought back to our vocabulary and that is the word Revival. We need a personal revival. Like Jacob we need to return to or personal Bethel . . . . . that time when we first met God and felt truly spiritually alive.  The Church needs to return to her Bethel and recapture the excitement and power that she had on the Day of Pentecost.

Let me ask you, “Has there ever been a time when you loved Jesus more than love Him right now? Has there ever been a time when you were more excited about the things of God than you are today? Has there ever been a time when you were closer to the Lord than you are this moment?”  If so, it is time to Go Back To Your Personal Bethel.

We don’t need new laws or a greater number of prosecutions. What we need is what Paul spoke of in Ephesians Two where he said God in Christ has created a new kind of man (ἵνα τοὺς δύο κτίσῃ ἐν αὑτ? εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον). I want to invite you take a trip with me: A trip Back to Bethel. That place where you first met God. That place where God first became real to you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Is It REALLY about Statues and Memorials?

Ordinarily I would not be writing on this particular subject. I tend to stay away from political
content.  However, as I was writing an entry on my Facebook page suddenly, and without notice, everything that I had written vanished. So, today it will reappear as a blog entry.

I'll tip my hand early as to another reason why I felt compelled to put this little essay together. In my more than 70 years I have never seen so much lunacy in the public sector of my beloved nation. I reject about 90% of what is published in the newspapers and other media. It is all contrived, distorted and purpose driven and that purpose has nothing to with informing the American public.

I just finished watching a group of what I would call vandals destroy a statue of Confederate soldiers from in front of a the Kentucky court house. The statue was not scheduled to be removed. However, a group of what appeared to be Millennial age people eventually managed to tie a yellow towing strap around the neck of the statue and pull it down. They then proceeded to jump around, screaming, spiting, shouting, and kicking the statue.

It all appeared so primeval and primitive. All of this to express their disdain for what they believe is both a representation and  institutionalization of slavery. They believe that somehow destroying representations from history such as statues they will in some way erase our history of slavery.  They fail to realize that it is not the outward symbols of our sinfulness that keep our sin before our eyes but that it comes from our own hearts. Until we experience personal redemption our transgressions, and our sin is always before our eyes and a burden on our lives.

This neo-iconoclastic movement to remove from public display the artifacts and monuments to a period of history to which some now object is totally misguided. It didn’t work for the great Rameses II with regard to his effort to eradicate the memory of Hatshepsut. All over Egypt there are edifices and statues with have been damaged and defaced and yet you cannot mention the great Rameses II without also taking not of Hatshepsut. In fact, next to the Pyramids of Giza the second most visited site in Egypt may well be the Temple of Hatshepsut.

Damnatio memoriae has never succeeded and it will not succeed now.  It is a fatally flawed idea. It has a built-in self destructiveness to its nature and insures that which is being destroyed is instead immortalized. The 21st century in America will go down in history as the iconoclastic period of politics and what has become known as political correctness. Oh, to be sure, the statues will be gone but the history will remain and demand to be accounted for. There are no time machines that can go back and change the course of history. What has been written has been written in indelible ink.

Not only does it not accomplish the goals of those who seek redress for history by hiding it from the public eye it strikes at the very heart of the nation’s founding. Slavery goes back to the foundation of the nation. Ironically it would include statues to Anthony Johnson as the patriarch of African American property owners. Johnson was an indentured servant from  Angola who achieved freedom in the early 17th-century Colony of Virginia after serving his term of indenture.

Johnson, now a Virginian freeman and property owner, joined the likes of Washington and Jefferson.  He was not only the first African American property owner part of the property he held was a slave. Hence, if this iconoclastic trend were it to continue would soon strike at the heart and soul of the nation.

I have a suggestion . . . . why not do what every generation in America has done. . . . revel in your story. Early Virginians glory in the first settlers who confronted a wilderness and overcame to build the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Irish, the Italians, the Germans all in their turn took the struggles of their founding American ancestors and stood proudly on these founding shoulders to continue their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Each in their time of struggle took a positive approach, kept a strong faith and marched on building a future for themselves and their children.

It is time to stop litigating the Civil War and slavery. The South lost, the North won; and, the slaves were freed. but the story stays the same.

I saw on the news this morning that some confederate memorial statues were removed in the dark of the night. I can only assume it is as an act of appeasement to avoid confrontation with the rift-raft of extremist on the Left and Right.

If I wanted to wax Biblical here I would say that they did it under the cover of darkness because their deeds are evil. "Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil." I could but I will not.

It will not work. It only causes a festering sore to worsen. Appeasement only puts off the inevitable. Ask the British how appeasement worked in their dealings with a per-WII Adolf Hitler.

The removal of the statues does not, because it cannot, solve the problem. The reason it cannot solve the problem is because while we as Americans are officially a "nation of laws" we are sociologically a "nation of tribes." We tend to forget that within our tribal core, "blood is thicker than water."

Robert E. Lee, whose statue was the occasion, not the cause, of the events in Charlottesville this week, and perhaps the second best General this nation has ever produced turned down Lincoln's offer to command the Union Armies in favor of defending his home state Virginia based on tribalism. Personally he largely agreed with Lincoln but he could not with his sacred honor intact oppose his family and political birthplace.

In this matter of statues we are all a bit too hypocritical. At the same time thinking that the removal of statues will solve anything is being short-sighted. The answer lies in the hearts of the people.  The people on both sides of this emotionally charges issue may not realize it but they have never taken the victory of the Union and the emancipation of the slave and run with it. They are stuck there.

If a modern day African American has strong emotional responses to statues of dead men they have not availed themselves of the freedom that 300,000 plus Union soldiers died to give them. By the same token white people in this modern era who are emotional connected to a bronze image as a representation of thie culture are just as enslaved as the plantation slave of the pre-Civil War era.  Neither have availed themselves of the freedom for which so many died to give them and both are slaves to their lessor selves. To these people, I say, forget the monuments and the statues and walk in your freedom. Get busy pursuing your life and stop blaming the past for your lack of liberty and happiness.

The heart of man, says the Bible, "is desperately wicked and beyond understanding" and there are some things in our minds that can only be changed by the "renewing of the mind." This renewing of the mind only comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

"Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). This is God fulfilling of Ezekiel 36:26, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."

How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free.
Perhaps they'll listen now.
For they could not love you
But still your love was true.

Moral heart disease is running rampant in our Land and we have thrown the only cure out of our public arena. "Sow to the wind and you will reap of the whirlwind." 

I was born and raised on the Gulf Coast where living through a hurricane is a writ of passage in life. We know that hurricane come through with the winds out of the east producing heavy rain, tidal surge flood and structural damage of all kinds. Then there is a period of calm as the eye of the storm (lowest pressure area) passes over.  People get out of the places they have sheltered to access the damage. There is a false sense of security by the novice but those who understand the storm quickly return to their shelter because the knnow this few moments of quietness is short lived. The wind will soon begin to pick up and the winds will now come from the west and we will experience the storm all over again.

For the last 60 years we have been living in the calm of the eye of the storm. Get ready folks we're only just now coming out of the eye of the storm and while it could get better it will not . . . it never does. . . .it always gets worse because there are forces of evil at work on both sides.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Some Thoughts on Divorce

Over more than 40 years of ministry I guess I have had the joy of having officiated hundreds if not thousands of weddings. I have also listened to, wept with and hurt for couples (some who I myself pronounced husband and wife) as those marriages came apart for reasons that often would make me shake my head. To be sure some of these couples were doomed from the start and most of us who counsel couples getting married kind of know which ones will survive and which ones will not.

Consequently, over the years I have done a lot of thinking and talking about divorce. Divorces like marriage affect the larger family system. Parents, cousins, siblings, and friends are all affected. Often pressured to take one side or the other. Divorce is never just about one broken relationship. It is one broken relationship and a whole family system of adjustments. It is not like changing the sheets. It is like creating a whole new world.

I have spent a lifetime researching and dealing with people who have suffer through divorce. In fact, my major writing project for my Doctor’s degree was entitled, Marriage and Divorce: A Biblical Perspective. It was an eye opening, mind stretching and life changing experience. It changed the way I understood God’s view of marriage and how we are to relate to it.  The principle that I came away with and by which I have tried to evaluate life actions is the mantra, “God does not regulate what He prohibits and He does not prohibit that which He regulates." It behooves us therefore since God allows for divorce to know how He regulates that process.

I remember when I went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as a young student that when a divorced man, regardless of why he was divorced, could not enroll in any of our Southern Baptist Seminaries. It just seemed clear that the fact that he was divorced was proof that he had not ruled over his own household very well and that was one of the qualifications for an  επίσκοπος (Bishop). There was a day when a Baptist church would not even consider a man who was divorced to be on staff let alone the senior pastor.

I have met men who in order to continue serving as a pastor have lied and cheated to keep secret the fact that they had been divorced. In some cases they were actually divorced as a result of their own infidelity. Churches often do not consider a man’s fidelity or past marriage history. Today, I know of several instances where the senior pastor has been divorced twice and married three times.

Truth is, I don’t know a single family in America that has not been touched in some way by divorce. I am of the opinion that most divorces are the result of failing to deal with issues before they accumulate into an unmanageable mess.

Looking back on my own marriage history of some 50 plus years I can tell you that there are plenty of issues that put great stress on marriages. At the time some of these seemed overwhelming but now looked at from the perspective of a long life and shared relationship they seem so insignificant and often are the occasion for a few chuckles.

I was raised in an era when something was broken you didn't throw it away . . . .you fixed it if you could. That should be our attitude toward our marriages when they seem to be breaking apart. Our first effort should be to "fix" it and not prematurely throw it away.

I do not believe most of the divorces I've witnessed were inevitable. Most of these marriages could have been redeemed and the relationships could have become meaningful and fulfilling if the right actions and attitudes prevailed. Ah, but ours is the day of the age of the half-read page. the quick hash, the mad dash, the bright night with the nerves tight and the plane hop with the brief stop. It is all about the moment. We have drawn lines in the sand when we should have been seeking a pathway to advance.

Marriages have always had to bear the stress and strains of conflicting personalities, opposite expectations, unforeseen frailties, and unexpected turns in life.  Couples soon discover that “pillow talk” is not enough to build a lasting relationship. They best have a healthy dose of “table talk” to go along with that “pillow talk.” These conflicts all have answers and the one most commonly overlooked is communication. It takes a lot of talking, caring, sharing and loving to make a marriage work.

However, if the marriage is irreparably broken one of the answers is divorce. It is rarely the best answer but it is one answer. So, if you’ve decided that you don’t want to work it out or the relationship is not salvageable divorce may well be the answer for you.

Experts tell us that in Texas alone 75,000 couples will divorce this year. I want to offer a few thoughts for your consideration as you move forward to dissolve your marriage.

Don’t rush headlong into your divorce. You put a lot of thought and planning into the wedding that created your marriage. In a similar way you should put as much thought and planning into ending your marriage. Take some time and think about what you hope to achieve through a divorce. Make a plan for after the divorce because there will be one. Try and anticipate where the real problems will be after the divorce.

If your divorce can be achieved in the same way your marriage was conceived then it can be a rewarding and have long term positive effects on all involved. I personally know several couples who were mature enough to sit down at their kitchen table and work out the terms of their own divorce. They then took the results of that “table talk” to a local family practice attorney and said, “write it up.”

But if that doesn’t work (These ideas are the same ones an amicable divorce needs they are just addressed openly and forthrightly with the end of both people and any children all getting through the experience in the best possible way) then here are the things you need to seriously weigh.

The most obvious thing thing that is going to change and one that will make a major impact on your lifestyle is your finances. You are going to discover that maintaining separate households is more expensive and your income is going to shrink in the best of scenarios.

• So start well before filing for a divorce to establish yourself as an independent financial entity. Start saving money in an account in your name only (these must be disclosed but you’ll need them during the divorce process.)

• Began to establish a credit record separate from your marriage.

• Make a list of the jointly owned possessions that you would like to keep and the ones you don’t mind giving up to your spouse.

• Keep in mind that in the State of Texas where I live the division of property is not based on what is fair. In a divorce proceeding it is not 50/50. The standard in Texas is a bit more ambiguous and subjective than that and has nothing to do with an equal distribution of assets. Here in Texas we are a community property state and if you cannot agree in advance on a property division the State will do it for you.

This division will be based on what Texas law calls “a just and right division.” This standard takes into account such things as fault for the breakup; each spouses general health and educational attainment; debts; earning capacity both present and future; parenting ability; and even more importantly any existing or future separate property.1

• If there are children under the age of 21 and in some cases older Child support will be paid. This is a statutory obligation.

• Finally, regardless of whether yours is an amicable or hostile divorce get a good attorney. Make sure they specialize in family law. You should also use a local attorney who knows the courts and the judges as well as the other attorneys practicing family law. My experience is that divorce these days is either negotiated or arbitrated. Negotiated is better.2

• Keep in mind that if you have children you will be ties to you spouse for as long as he/she pays child support and have custody/visitation.
In every instance where children are involved one spouse will pay child support and the other will receive child support.

Whatever direction your divorce takes keep in mind there really is life after Divorce.

Now, having given that advice I want to say that I rarely recommend divorce as an answer to what constitute most marital issues. It is a last resort in most cases. To be sure there are situations where I would recommend divorce but they involve the really big issues of physical and psychological abuse and the like. For financial issues I recommend a good financial advisor and relationship counselor. In some instances a “Life Coach” to help with the “how” of making needed financial changes. In the same way most other issues can be resolved. Seek advice from people who have had successful marriages not those who have failed. Above all keep the lines of communication open.

Keep in mind that God hates divorce; has an ideal for marriage; and provides grace to make marriage work. But do not forget that God does not prohibit what He regulates and He regulates Divorce. It behooves us to understand His regulations and act within them.


 1 Two important points. First, the judge has little discretion in setting the amount—it is based on income and number of children per the Texas Family Code. Second, don’t hold your child support hostage. Pay it—even if your ex-spouse withholds visitation. If you don’t, you could go to jail. Likewise, the spouse receiving child support may not withhold visitation even if the paying spouse is not current on child support payments. Also, just because you didn’t pay your child support and the child is now past the age for which child support is paid does not mean you are home free. Nope, you will still have to pay it and do so with interest and penalties. Never delay or miss a child support payment if you can avoid it.

2 Are they Board certified? At least in theory they have mastered the complexities of the Texas Family Code; They should be seasoned trial skills and a strong work ethic are critical who prepare their cases as though they will go to trial because that generally results in a negotiated settlement.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Married 50 Years: And Still Loving It.

My sister has been having my blog printed in book form and sending me a copy of each book as it is completed. I actually started blogging back in 2009 and, as this missive proves, continues to this day. I understand that volume four is in some stage of production.

At any rate volume three arrived last week as Susan (my wife of 50+ years) read through it she noticed that I had not written anything in 2016 about our 50th Wedding Anniversary or the reception our children had in our honor.

When I came into the room she said, “I’ve been reading your blog entries.”  “Yea,” I said, “what do you think of them."   She replied, “Well, you have written about High School Reunions and just about everything under the sun but not a word about our 50th Anniversary or the reception the children gave for us.” I thought to myself, “uh-oh.” Implied in that statement was the question, “wasn’t it important enough to you to write about it?” I really had no answer that would satisfy her but I knew very soon I’d be writing this blog entry so I just said, “Well, the reception was not held until March 2017 . . . maybe you should start reading my blog online and not waiting on the printed book.” Boy, was that a dumb thing to say.

Now you have to understand that we were married on December 23, 1966. Also know that I had not forgotten that date or that December 23, 2016 marked our 50th wedding anniversary. Truth is, I knew she had her heart set on having a reception celebrating our 50 years as husband and wife and I did everything I could to encourage fulfilling her wish. It just wasn’t to be.  Schedules were just too full with holiday events to make it happen then. I will also set forth in my defense the fact that we had mini 50th Wedding Anniversary events all throughout 2016 including a December 7 day cruise.

Fortunately for me one of our daughters pointed out that they (our children) would get together, set a date and make a plan. Those of you who know Susan personally know that she is likes to know all the details about everything. She doesn’t mind surprises as long as she knows about them in advance. As one of daughters told her, “Mom, don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything. It will all be good.

Well, the e-mails, text messages and phone calls flew back and forth as the planning was taking shape. A date was chosen and a plan came together that resulted in Sunday March 5, 2017 being “D-Day” for the reception. With that the count down clock was started.

 About the only part I played was giving them my mailing list to work off of for sending invitations.
Then, when given the green light, I sent out a personal  email invitation to just about everyone I know just in case the children had missed someone. Truth is, our children have no idea how many people we know both socially and in other ways . . . I can assure you it is a lot more than they think.

The only thing I insisted on was that the invitation let people know that we did not want any gifts.

What we wanted was their presence. However, if they do want to make a gift please make it to our favorite Charity . . . . Mission Dignity. I am happy to say that those who chose to give, their gifts when taken together, made a very healthy donation to that project.  It is the only charity that I support these days.

I’d love to tell the story of all that planning but the truth is I don’t know anything about it except that that in the end it turned out to be a perfect day for us.
So, I’ll reiterate on Sunday, March 5th of this year (2017) our children honored us with a Fiftieth
Wedding Anniversary Reception. It was held at our daughter, Charity’s home in Pearland, Texas. We got up Sunday morning and the house was literally converted to a reception area. Tables for people to use as they enjoyed the buffet were strategically placed so that folks could visit. A “this has been our life” video was playing as loop. Susan’s wedding dress (which still fits) was on display as were photos and other memorabilia. In the end it turned out to be a perfect day for us.

Like the tables and chairs we were stationed at the front door to greet guests as they arrived and our youngest daughter, Stacie, served as photographer and took pictures of us with our friends as they arrived.

During the lulls between people arriving I, as did Susan, visited with our friends from over the
years and introducing them to each other.  There were people in attendance from every church we ever pastored except the very first one. It was interesting to listen as they shared with each other their memories of our ministries together. It was gratifying as they shared with us their gratitude and affection.

Additionally we had all of our children and grandchildren present and I can tell you that nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . . brings Susan and I more joy than having all our family present. So I have say all in all the reception was a huge success and we are appreciative of all the thought, energy and expense that our children went to in making it a special day for us.

What I loved about the event was:  My children put it all together; Susan and I were able to share it together; and, it allowed us to get a glimpse of the Tapestry God has created of our lives from the time we were naive young lovers through all the stages of our life together and where we are today.

However, in addition to being special for all the reasons I have mentioned it was even more special as a time where we reflected on our life journey. A few weeks ago Susan and I went to see a play written by Judy Norton of The Walton’s fame She played the part of Mary Ellen in the series. The play, titled Moments Remembered: The Lives and Loves Lily and Daniel Grant. Judy not only wrote the play she stared in it with Don Most. You’ll remember Don from the series Happy Days in which he played Ralph Malph
The play is about the life stages of a married couple beginning from their first date through Lily’s death. Well, that is sort of what our 50th Wedding Anniversary was for us . . . except for the death part and we have given that some thought as well. It was for us a time of remembrance.

Remembering how we met and our dating all through high school. For details you’ll have to read my book but suffice it to say we were flooded with memories of being young and in love at an early age. There was never any question in our minds or in the minds of those who knew us in those days that we were meant to be together. Over time I have come to understand that it was without question a God thing.  Amazingly as a 16 year old I couldn’t imagine Susan not being in my life and now at the age of 70 I feel it even stronger though I know that for one of us it will one day happen. One of us is in for a whole new experience unlike any we’ve had thus far. It is an inherent part of the cycle of life as ordained by God . . . though it makes me sad to think about it.

Every photograph and every person who came through the door at our daughter’s house was a peg upon which many precious remembered moments were hanging. I couldn’t help but think of the old NBC television program, This is Your Life. On this program, the host would surprise guests and then take them through a retrospective of their lives that included appearances by colleagues, friends, and family. Every time the door opened a new group of life moments were remembered.

In the play, Moments Remembered, they hit all the biggies: dating, marriage, careers, children losses and gains, and aging.  At our 50th Wedding Reception we also hit all the biggies as well as a whole lot of not quiet biggies but still very significant life moments. Susan and I have done a lot of living; we have received a lot of blessing; and, suffered our share of hardship and pain. All of this has drawn us closer to one another.

Our lives have been touched by wonderful people from around the world. We have had moments with the some of the great personalities of our time as well as the not so great. All of them have shaped who we are. This is where I should drop a few names but I will restrain myself. Again, you’ll have to read the book. We have traveled extensively visiting many cultures and seeing, as Howard Carter said when he looked into Tut’s tomb, “many wonderful things.” But the really wonderful part is we saw them together.

Life is too short for a love such as ours.  Ours has been a good life and one of the good things is that we have a few more chapters to write. With God’s help and by His grace we’ll continue to write them together. 

My feelings may well be summed up in the words of Nicolas Spark who wrote in The Notebook . . . “I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.” And yes, “I think our love can do anything we want it to."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Happened to the Concept of the Church As Family

My long time friend, Terry Clements, responded to the responses of folks to her Facebook posting
regarding the mega churches of our day and the human need for a sense of belonging and significance. The thread said in part

Terry: Thank you everyone for responding. It has served to remind me that back in the day our families may not have believed the same things but we did believe in the value of being in church. Our churches for the most part were not large by today's standards but the "fellowship" among the members was off the chart. This is a "Common Core" I can support.

Denise:  I don't want to be a number in the church, I want to be a person .

Robert: That's is the problem today churches do not put an emphasis on fellowship. From my point of view churches spurn single parent family. I have seen play out in multiple churches in this area.

David Appleby: I really don't want to highjack Terry's thread but I will say that in this present church age we have to a large measure turned away from the Pauline concept of church as a family.

Robert: So what your saying is a large group of people are being left behind by the church?

Denise: I've also found out that some churches don't minister to those that have lost a loved one or call and even check up on their own members of the church either..

David Appleby: What I am saying is a large group of people are missing out on significant, and I believe essential an element, that the body of Christ (Church) is uniquely positioned to provide, i.e., a sense of belonging to a family.

David Appleby: Actually back in the day mentioned in most of these responses there was interaction between churches and the members of the various churches. I had a friend when growing up went to one church on Sunday morning and to our church on Sunday evening. Churches were pretty much the core of our social life.

I ended that conversation there because it took on a more personal tone about the participants own life experience. However, it got me to thinking about what we seem to have lost in the demise of the community based church.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950's every town usually had about a half dozen or more churches. There would what I used to call the big three: First Baptist Church; First Methodist Church; and First Presbyterian Church. These generally were the churches that grew up with the community as it grew so did they. Over time, as neighborhood began to develop and the communities began to be come town and then small cities the number and kinds of churches also increased.  And to be clear all these churches placed an emphases on church growth.  They wanted everyone to become a Christian and preferably their brand of Christian. Fundamentally they were the shared a common faith but differed on a variety of lessor doctrinal teachings and procedural rules.

I will not talk specifically about each group individually but I will share my impressions of what happened in Baptist church life.

Baptist churches while often different in size were pretty much the same in every other way. I was the product of the Baptist churches of the 1950's. The Baptist church in the 1950's placed a lot of importance on Bible study and age grade Bible teaching. We had a Sunday School Class for everyone from the newly born to the soon to the nearly dead.  You could attend any Baptist church give them your name and age and they would be able to put you in a class just exactly like the one in your home church. Same age, same room arrangement same “quarterly” (Sunday School book) and focused on the same lesson as your friends at your “home” church.

The worship service, like Sunday School, was also much the same from one Baptist Church to the other. I can still see the old Sunday School Report Boards hanging on the left and right of the chancel and a copy of the Church Covenant on the wall to the right of the Chancel. Chancel in a Baptist Church is the platform or the pulpit area.

As you entered the sanctuary you would receive a “bulletin” from a smiling and friendly usher who greeted you at the door. Every door coming into the sanctuary would be manned by a smiling and friendly usher with a hand full of bulletins. Folks would visit and greet one another in the few minutes prior to the start of the worship service. It was generally considered pre-worship fellowship time.

Now back to those bulletins. Bulletins served two purposes. First it contained the most important and urgent announcements for the membership. Second it contained the order of service for the morning and evening services. One really interesting thing was that while specific songs, sermons etc.
would be different from church to church the order of the worship services, especially the more formal morning service) would be the same from church to church.

I suspect this was also the case for the Methodist and the Presbyterians. There were not a lot of rules but there as a lot of standardization.

Now, I’m sure your asking, “Why this trip down memory lane?” Well there is purpose to my method. The structure of the church in the 1050-60's was one that was not so different that Christians of previous eras would be uncomfortable with what was happening. In short, the church of my youth was designed to facilitate fellowship within a family of believers.

This was also the period among Baptists when our churches (all of them) experienced growth and new churches were constantly being created. All of this was the result of the conviction that church is in fact a family more than a community. I however, in the late 1960's and early 1970's the culture began to change but the church continued as the one place where people could experience all the benefits of family. Then some bright fellow wrote a book entitled, A dynamic church: Spirit and structure for the seventies. From that point on the die was cast so that Baptist churches in the community (neighborhood) model would eventually just fade away.

Please take note that I am not hear to decry the changes. Some, have actually been for the good and others not so good. I am here to speak of the value of the Pauline view of the church as a family of believers where the world “family” carries with it all the implications of a family unit.

This brings me back to where I began with the Facebook thread partially quoted above. As that thread developed I learned that the people all had belonged to church where when they had a crises in their life the “church family” did not respond to them with compassion; care for them in their need; comfort them in their sorry; stand with them in their time of trouble. Now to be sure, these things also happened in the neighborhood churches but to a lessor degree.

We have maintained the Pauline doctrine that speaks of the church as the body of Christ in which all the body parts must function in harmony with one another and be healthy for the body to function most efficiently. So with the church.

This is the reason Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  He said, “Make Disciples” not “win the lost.”

Is there a difference you ask? The answer is yes! Winning the lost speaks only to entrance into the family of God while “making disciples” speaks of helping people discover their calling, spiritual gift and place in the family of God.  It includes winning the lost as the beginning of the making disciple process but not the ultimate goal. The goal is helping them discover their place in the Church and function as the part of the body God has called them to be through use of their Spiritual gifts.
When and where this happens the church becomes what God intends. This is why a small neighborhood church can be a better picture of God’s plan than a huge Mega-church. The small church has less fat (underutilized members) than the Mega-church.

Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”  Among the things we can learn from observing ants is that every single ant has a function and the whole ant colony is dependent on each ant discovering what their place in the colony is and then filling it. The same is true of the church.

All church members need to be filling their roll as a part of the church thereby making the church what it should be.  Ideally, all that is required for the church to become what God intends a given local church to be is for all the members, individually to fill the spot in the body of Christ (the church) that God has placed them in that church to be.

If this happens, those in the body of Christ who are hurting are ministered to by those who riding high on the blessing of God.  I once had a man in my church who believed (and I concurred with him) that his function in the body of Christ was to help those who were in need. He said to me once, “For many years I did not understand why everything I touch prospered financially until one day reading in the Bible I came across Ephesians 4:28 then I realized it was so I could be His hands to help those in financial need. I honestly believe if I stopped helping people God would stop blessing the work of my hands.”  I tell you this man found his place in the family of God and stepped up to the plate and fulfilled his calling.

He was saved because someone shared the Gospel with him but he was blessed that the person who lead him to faith did more than introduce him to salvation but also started him on a life of discipleship. We are not all called to be the same thing but we are all called to be something in the body of Christ. If that happens then the complaints in the Facebook thread I started with will be greatly diminished. Granted, as I said earlier, it does not guarantee a person will not be overlooked but it does reduces the chances of it happening. Why, because in the neighborhood church we know everyone who attends.

As and aside I might add that the emphases in our contemporary worship on the individual and group praise has taken away from an essential element of the church’s function. Remember that according to James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  In other words that while we want the words of our mouth to be acceptable to God the only way that can happen is when the deeds of our life are in keeping with His purposes as defined in James 1:27 and numerous other passages of Scripture.

“So too, faith by itself, if it is not complemented by action, is dead. But someone will say, You have faith and I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that God is one. Good for you! Even the demons believe that, and shudder!…”  James 2:1719.  Clearly, as far as God is concerned the proof of your praise is seen in the actions of your life.

So much of our praise is about ourselves when it ought to be about God and how He has allowed us to be used up in His service. It should flow out of His leading us to become more and more like Jesus every day. Do you like Jesus look out over your town, your city your country and/or your world and weep because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus healed the sick, cared for the dying, and snatched the lost from Hell. I can promise you that leading someone to Christ will produce an up swell of praise in your heart that you’ll never even come close to in a praise and worship song.
This can be done in the Mega-church but it is much harder. Just one reason why I think there will always be a place for the neighborhood church. I also believe that the next generation will see a return to the smaller neighborhood church if for no other reason that the time of trouble that will come upon Christians in the years to come should the Lord tarry.

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true,
And know that all I’d do for You
Must needs be done for others.

Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep: and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again,
Except to live for others.

So when my work on earth is done,
And my new work in heav’n’s begun,
I’ll praise You for the crown I’ve won,
But praise You more for others.

Yes, others, Lord, yes, others,
Let this my motto be;
Help me to live for others,
Help me to live for others,
That I may live like Thee,
That I may live like Thee.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Talking About Things

Our Little Yellow Cottage
Since Susan and I have downsized about as much as a person can without moving under a 2 million dollar bridge I have become inundated with all sorts of suggestions about what to do with the stuff we have "housed" at various and sundry places. Once we moved into the cottage we now occupy we began looking at things we probably would never use again as well as things we couldn't afford to replace if we got rid of them and a few things that couldn't be replaced at any price.

Most of our furniture has either been handed off to our children or friends who needed and would use what we were giving away. Oh, I know we probably could have gone on "Southeast Texas dot com" and made a few dollars by selling that stuff.  But then, I have never been one for selling something when I could give it to someone who couldn't buy it but certainly could use it. Let's see we gave away a complete dinning set with hutch and buffet; Three bedroom suits (Bed frame, mattresses, dresser and chest); and a bunch of other stuff.  After all they were just things. Well,  right now that's what I am doing . . . thinking about "Things."

What we didn't give away we stored, first in a storage facility and later at our children's homes  The rest we have kept around the cottage. It's crowded to be sure. Our small cottage was not designed for 21st century life. It is more like 19th century life. Small rooms and tiny closets.

In spite of that we decided we'd keep some of our "stuff." So we have furniture in our house. It is just
closer together than the furniture you probably have in your house. Our open spaces are more like walkways than open areas. Everyone takes the same route to the bathroom. We opted to keep it that way because, well . . . we just wanted to.  Besides we needed  place to sit and eat; sit and watch TV; and a place to sleep.

I mentioned that our house is a model home for 19th century Southeast Texas. The closets were built for an era when men had a set of work clothes and a set of Sunday go to meeting clothes. Same for the ladies.

Needless to say the house over flows
with clothing and other personal item. Truth is, when I am gone my kids are going to look around and rifle through my stuff, scratch their heads and mutter to themselves, "What was Dad thinking by keeping this stuff?"

Well, I am still here and about to tell you.  So, when I am gone and you are sorting through my "things" aka "stuff'" please be kind in your comments about what you find. Each one of the things I have kept has a story behind them. In most cases it is a story you'll never know but that was important to me. If they were lined up in the order I received them they might well reveal a lot of the story of my life . . . they do to me.

All those things kept represent chapters in my life.  I hope the story they tell reminds you of the song, "and may all who come behind us find us faithful." When our children sort through all our "stuff" what will it reveal about our life and what was important? 

I hope my stuff reminds you of what was important to me.:
  • I hope it helps you see how important my sense of a "calling from God" to preach was to me;
  • I hope it enables you see how much I loved your mother;
  • I hope you are reminded how proud I was of each of my children and loved each one as best I knew how;
  • I hope you are reminded of how much I valued friends and loyalty;
  • And lastly I hope it will help you focus on what should be important in your life.
I'll tell you now that the reason for some of the things I have kept has nothing to do with their intrinsic value or usefulness. These are things that derive their value from the hands that have touched them.

  • I've kept my father's tools because his hands touched them and he used them to feed, clothe and shelter our family as I grew up;
  • I have kept some of my mother's kitchen tools (bowls and gadgets) because they remind me how much she did to make our home a happy place to be;
  • I have several boxes of things I've garnered from my many journeys and the places of ministry where I served . . . they remind me of the folks I met along the way and the wonderful things God did in those places;
  • Some I kept because they reminded me of you while others remind me of your mom and our life together before any of you came along;  
  • Some I kept because I might need them "down the road:"
  • And a few I kept, well, simply because I wanted to . . . no reason.

I'll tell you now that some of it will be just stuff and may well be just junk to you . . . and that is OK. But as long as I am around it will have a place, even if not a place of honor, in my life. As long as it still serves as a peg upon which my mind has hung some memory that is important to me I'll treat them as the treasures they are. Like the saying goes, "One man treasure is another man's junk."

However, I'll warn you now . . . . not everything you find in and among my stuff is without value! To be sure, for me it all has value because of where it takes me in a lifetime of making memories. However some of this "stuff" actually has real (monetary) value.

So here is my advise: As you go through my things and you find something and wonder, "Why in the world did Dad keep this?" take a minute and ask your mom she might give you a reason that will add to its worth for you as well. 

I might as well go ahead and remind you of something about myself that you should already know but might have missed along the way. I have never been one to broadcast my business so I need to tell you that in and amongst all those sentimental treasures I have kept across these many years are sprinkled a handful of items that also have real value, i.e., they might actually be worth some money

So sort carefully and try and see the sentimental journey all this stuff represent while keeping an eye open for that occasional material treasure.