Life in a song

How does grace flow to hurting people? For me, it often flows through the earplugs connected to my iPod. Music, God’s music, is a powerful tonic.

There is one album of music that seems to connect with my soul more than any other, at least it has over the past year. It’s <em>Lifesong</em> by Casting Crowns. It’s simply about the reality of life — the pain — and also the blessing — the gift of God in Christ.

One song hit me especially strongly tonight, “Love Them Like Jesus.” It speaks first of the pain of a broken marriage then of the pain of a couple losing a child. I’ve never walked that first path, but I have walked the second. It was 22 years ago, but it’s still there, part of my life today.

The writer of the lyric, Mark Hall, offers a chorus that speaks to all of us who would speak to others who are hurting.

“Just love them like Jesus, carry them to Him / His yoke is easy, His burden is light / You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions / just know that He loves them and stay by their side / love them like Jesus.”

Such good words. As we think of sharing the hope of Christ with all in Texas, I think these are good words to direct us.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)


Another person for whom to be thankful

Last night I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Ellis Sandoz, who had been head of the Political Science Department at East Texas State University in Commerce when I attended there. He changed my life by introducing me to some of the classics of literature. As I wrote in the letter:

“You surprised me when I took the Intro to Political Science class. I thought it would be about American politics, but you took us instead to the classics and that is why I have been thankful for your impact on my life.

“I did not grow up in a rigorous educational environment. I had been an average student with average work habits, and my reading habits were even worse. My parents wanted me to go to college so I could get a better job someday, the kind of job that my dad could never get because of his lack of a degree.

“When I entered your Intro class I had never read any of the classics, not even the English ones. I thought the ancient writers would be out of my league. Then, because of you, I read Aristotle’s Ethics. It was like an epiphany. I actually could understand what he was saying and loving it. I found myself wanting to underline every sentence, because each one seemed to contain so much insight. Not only did I fall in love with the classics, but I realized I could pursue learning that I had previously thought was beyond my mental reach. In short, I realized I was bright enough to stay with the smart people.”

Here’s one other paragraph from the rather long e-mail:

“And there was one other way that you influenced me. When I was in college I did not attend church regularly, but one Sunday I attended First Baptist Church in Commerce and you were there. I don’t know anything about your religious beliefs then or now, but your presence at church said a great deal to me. It said that if a man with a mind and an education like Dr. Sandoz can have a place for God in his life, then I, too, can have a healthy life of both the mind and the spirit. That dual approach to seeking to understand reality has served me well. It has made me a bit of an oddity at times in either intellectual or religious circles, but it has been a wonderfully fulfilling way to approach life.”

I never had a close relationship with Dr. Sandoz, but it’s amazing the impact that a teacher can have on the lives of his or her students. Maybe this post will inspire someone else to say “thank you” to a teacher.

Much for which to be thankful

The fog has been heavy this Thanksgiving morning, but it is now beginning to lift and we expect a beautiful day with the temperature reaching into the 70s. I am thankful for so much this year; here are a few:

— The election of Barack Obama as president. It’s not just that I agreed more with his policy positions than his opponent John McCain’s; I love his basic message that all the varied groupings of Americans must come together and function as one nation if we are to move forward as a continued beacon of political hope to the world. I also am thankful that our nation has progressed to the point of being able to elect an African American as president. I think back to attitudes that surrounded me in my childhood and to the images on the television, and this is truly amazing. I recall the conversations at our dinner table as I was growing up, and my sister, who was four years older than me, beat the verbal drum for racial equality. We have come a long way.

— That I have a good and satisfying job. I enjoy my work, and I get paid a good wage for it. So many at our office have lost their jobs over the past few years, and I hurt for their loss; but I am confident God will care for them as He did for me in past when I didn’t have a job. I pray that we can move through this economic down time quickly, learn some lessons as a nation, make some changes in our regulatory policies and move forward toward healthy prosperity.

— Health benefits at work. I have had one surgery (vocal chords) and am about to have another (knee); Trese had a close brush with death and spent a few days in the hospital; and Meredith got stepped on my a horse. The expenses were high, but we made it thanks to my health benefits at work and our new Health Savings Account.

My wonderful family. We all love each other and enjoy each other’s presence. Circumstances brought some real challenges, but we move through them well together. Trese is a wonderful wife and mother; Tiffany and Darren, Tabitha, Landon, Meredith, Cameron, Shawn, Skylar, Savannah, Madison and Tristan are the joys of my life; Mom and Dad are still a blessing to us and I thank God for every day I have with them; and Kathy and her family moved closer and that has been very nice. I love my family; they are God’s greatest blessing upon my life.


This blog post is really for me. It’s a way of journaling, albeit late.

On Nov. 4 this year, I did something I may never have done before; I voted a straight Democratic ticket in the general election. I was strong for Barack Obama, and because of the mess in our country I decided to give him a long coattail in my own voting.

I’m proud of my vote for Mr. Obama. I pray he will do well. I pray our nation will do well.

‘Play to extinction’

Weston Ware, of Texans Against Gambling, sent out the following in an e-newsletter, and I thought it worth sharing:

“Every feature of a slot machine – its mathematical structure, visual graphics, sound dynamics, seating and screen ergonomics – is calibrated to increase a gambler’s “time on device” and to encourage “play to extinction,” which is industry jargon for playing until all your money is gone.”

This observation by gambling researcher Natasha Schull, of MIT, sums up the findings of her most recent work, <em>Machine Zone: Technology and Compulsion in Las Vegas</em>, to be published in 2009. It’s a book based on compulsive gamblers and the engineers who design modern slot machines.

We are sharing this with you to underscore the importance of building citizen opposition to expanding gambling in Texas. Video gambling terminals (aka slot machines) will be at the core of any push in Texas.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Four parts of evangelism

Jon Randles is stressing four aspects of effective evangelism today — intentionality, relationships, events and prayer. None of the four will stand well alone, but when you incorporate all four elements you have created the best environment and opportunity for a working of the Holy Spirit in drawing people to faith in Christ.

I think it’s a solid approach. History and personal experience generally have shown that when believers are not intentional in sharing their faith, it seldom gets shared. Recent experience has shown the importance of building relationships, that events alone are not the holy grail of evangelism. Events have become more out of favor in recent years as people highlighted the importance of relationships, but our evangelistic results have suffered during that time. And the importance of prayer should be obvious to all of us.

It’s interesting that the “event” aspect of evangelism is the one that has been challenged most in recent years. Jon Randles, however, has had a different experience. The Lord has been blessing Jon’s four-pronged approach to evangelism on college campuses now for some time, and events are very much a part of it.

I find it interesting that evangelistic events have been out of favor, while worship events have not, at least among pastors. In other words, we all know that worship is about more than just holding a Sunday service; but we continue to hold those weekly worship events because they provide a great opportunity for the possibility of corporate worship occurring.

And there is New Testament precedent for evangelistic events. That’s what Jesus was doing when he spoke to the crowds of His day. Jesus’ ministry was much, much more than speaking to large crowds, but that was one aspect of it.

I think Jon’s approach is worth a try. Events have a place in our evangelistic efforts, but let’s not expect them to stand alone without the relationships, prayer and intentionality that should accompany them. Of course, the types of events that may work today may not be the kind of events that worked a few decades ago. Let’s experiment and dialogue as we seek effective ways to tell the story.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

It only takes a spark

There have been bigger evangelism conferences, but I have never been to a better one than this year’s in Rockwall. This was a special experience.

I don’t know the final registration count yet, but the reality is that a few hundred people rattled around in a large auditorium. I sat there tonight (Tuesday) thinking how great it would have been to have 2,000 Texas Baptists in the room and then spreading out around Texas with evangelism on their hearts and minds. But that kind of thinking is not very helpful. We had what we had. There may have been only 100 or 200 there tonight, but God has shown through the ages that he can do unbelievable things through a very few people. And, of course, the people in that auditorium are not the only Texas Baptists who care about evangelism and are actually working to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

I’m glad Jon Randles had the passion and faith to secure a big place for this event. There really was no way of knowing how many people would come to a new evangelism conference, but Jon erred on the upside.

I remember a pastor telling me the story of when he first became pastor of a small African American congregation in the Chicago area. The pews were virtually empty, and he was very discouraged. He went to visit his father, a pastor in another state; and his dad told him to go back and pray in that auditorium until he saw angels filling the pews. The young pastor didn’t think too highly of the suggestion, but a desperate man will do things that seem a little crazy to others. He prayed. Finally, he told me, he began to see angels in every pew and around the walls of that small auditorium. Convinced that God was in that work, this young pastor continued to preach and minister. When I left Illinois eight years ago, that congregation was the largest Southern Baptist congregation in Illinois, with about 2,500 in worship every Sunday, if my memory serves right — it may have been more because the auditorium was huge.

Some people may want to focus on the empty seats at this year’s evangelism conference, but I think it’s much better to pray for those who were in the seats as they go home and pray that in the years to come God will fill those seats, no matter where the conference is held. Not so we can brag of a big meeting but so more people can be encouraged and inspired to spread the good news.

Texas Baptists have always been an evangelistic people. The conferences are only a means to an end. So whether or not you were at this year’s evangelism conference, my prayer is that God will stir all of us to a renewed awareness of the importance of spreading His good news.

Now there I go, for the second time in two days I’ve gone to preaching. Maybe I should ask to have that added to my job description.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)