The Cold, Dark Lens

I stand in my usual spot. Some call it a stage, and some have called it the pulpit. Either way, it’s where sermons are delivered, lessons taught, and messages shared.

My usual spot is where I preach on Sunday mornings. Two sermons a week, one for each service. But not lately. The last Sunday that we had two live services was March 8. 

Now I deliver my sermons on Wednesday afternoons. That’s when they are recorded and then live-streamed from our website. Each Sunday, 800-1000 people will watch the service on their phone, computer, or big screen TV and do so from the comfort of their homes. I see none of them.

My spot is in the Worship Center designed for hundreds of people. But instead of looking at a congregation of familiar faces, I look into a camera lens. It’s a hard thing to do, to record in a big, dark, empty space. Looking into a lens is not warm and fuzzy; it’s lifeless, and it gives nothing back, not a warm smile or rich laughter. It is an empty experience, unrewarding, and unfulfilling. 

Camera lens

It’s the way it has to be. We call it the Corona Virus, or just virus, Covid-19, or the pandemic. Twice we have planned to reopen the church, and twice we have canceled due to an upsurge of new cases in the greater Houston area. So, we record a worship service with the praise team, prayer leaders, and commuion.

But it’s not the same, is it? 

Church family, I miss you. I miss shaking hands and hugging and seeing you love each other. I miss our Youth Group and all of our kids and sharing the Lord’s meal. 

You are prayed for and lifted up before the Father.

TO CLOSE

I’ll end with the following hope:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:4-7, 13

 

Sunday: Families of Faith

Did Jesus dislike families? Did he have any reason to?

John 7 records that his brothers didn’t believe in him. What about his dad, what happened to Joseph? The family would be used as an excuse for not becoming his disciple. His own apostles, at times, were torn between following him and going back to their homes and families.

Here is a particularly difficult text about this in Matthew 10.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” v. 34-35

“A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” v. 36

A troubling thing for the Prince of Peace to say.

Matthew 10:34-36 is a quote from Micah 7:6. The prophet spoke against Judah and Israel for abandoning their faith. He condemned them for social injustice, the leader’s abusive behaviors, and how those with power brutalized the poor.

Micah 6:14 says that the leaders were attempting to stockpile for themselves olive oil, wine, and grains. But they would not enjoy any of it, for it would be forcefully taken by their enemies and their swords. Jesus’ sword was a metaphor, to illustrate that his presence and his message would separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

Micah spoke of the tribulation that would soon come upon the people. That a season of desperation would lead them to betray and abuse each other. They would steal from each other, even from the members of their own families.

Such was the context in which Jesus spoke against Israel’s leaders. He was about to send his apostles to preach throughout Israel and Galilee. He warned them about hardships, and about their being flogged in the synagogues. Jesus said that the message of the kingdom would divide families.

As it was for Micah the Prophet, so it was for the Son of David. He would challenge the people to return to God, to love one another, and to eliminate greed, injustice, and intolerance from their hearts.

Jesus’ message wasn’t always received with joy.

So, it makes it all the sweeter when I see families of faith. Yesterday, in both services, we had videos of families at home who led us in prayer, in communion, and in the process, touched our hearts and enriched our souls. It was beautiful.

Jesus with families

To Close

Jesus wasn’t born to dislike people. He didn’t come to tear us apart or to divide friends and families. But he knew his message would create friction, for even within the same family, some would believe and some wouldn’t.

I thank God daily for our young families at the Southeast church. Thank you for your faith, and God bless you for sharing it with all of us.

Is It Just A Number?

Today is my birthday. Yep, May 18, 1956, was my entrance to the world. I was born in Moses Lake, Washington, and that makes me a natural-born citizen of these United States. 

The math gets harder, so I’ll spare you the trouble. I am now 64 years old. Here are a few of the ideas that I considered, and rejected, for this blog. 

  1. A poem with sixty-four verses
  2. The highlights of my life
  3. The lowlights of my life
  4. Reasons why 64 is better than 63
  5. The things that hurt more today than yesterday

However, none of those seem interesting, and I’m sure most wouldn’t finish reading. So, instead, I’ll ramble for a few hundred words.

Some Facts:

  1. I’ve been married for forty-one years and a dad for 35.
  2. I’ve been a minister for forty years.
  3. Houston has been my home for twenty-two years.
  4. My favorite thing is fly fishing the streams of the Colorado Rockies.
  5. Christmas is still my favorite holiday.  

Some things I’ve discovered about myself: 

  1. I’m not as smart as I thought I was. 
  2. I’ve been wrong about quite a few things.
  3. Change is hard, but it is always the right thing.
  4. I have failed as much as I’ve succeeded.
  5. Believe me, the mind is the first thing to go.

If age is just a number and we are as young as we feel, then half the time I’m confused about how old I am. But it matters not for whatever number reflects my time on earth; it remains just a number. 

I remember when dad bought a color television. It was a massive piece of furniture with beautiful polished wood. I think it was the nicest piece in our living room.

I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and watching Niel Armstrong walk on the moon. 

I got my first bike at eight, my first skateboard at nine, and my first car at sixteen. It was 1973 and the car was a 1962 Chevy Bel Air with 1.6 million miles. 

The Viet Nam war borrowed my dad and then my brother. My other brother spent a dozen years in the Navy. All three served with distinction. 

I’ve learned that life can knock you down, again and again. Life can also present opportunities and open doors when least expected. 

In seasons of dark days with unending grief, I’ve learned it’s best to keep moving forward. Life goes on so we might as well go with it. Life rarely stops to let us catch up.  

As hard as it is to believe, we are never truly alone. All around us are people who have experienced the same troubles. When I feel isolated, cut off, and alone, it’s usually the way I want it. My suffering seems nobler when I brave it by myself, but it’s not. 

I never thought I would get a cell phone, but I did. I never thought I would have more than one TV in my house, but I do. I never thought I would ever drive a convertible, but I am. 

I never thought that being a father would be the highest achievement of my life, but it has. I never thought I would live through a global pandemic, but so far so good.

Life’s struggles, trials, and failures aren’t terrible things. Instead, they have shaped me and enhanced my life quality.

Today is my birthday. I think I’ll go out for lunch. Wait, can I? Should I? I better wear a mask. Will that be awkward? Lower it for each bite, then cover up while chewing, and then repeat? Anyway…

Happy birthday to me. 

 

 

It’s a Love Story

A MODERN MIRACLE

It’s a miracle that anyone can keep a class of kindergarteners engaged for 45 minutes.

Our Children’s Sunday School program has a teacher and an assistant in each class, but one of the classes was without an assistant and since I was friends with the teacher, I stepped in to help.

The kids knew who I was and said, “Hi Mr. Rick.” They were happy to see me and the teacher allowed for the moment and then deftly reacquired their attention.

We have some very cute and adorable kids in our church! 

I pulled up a chair and sandwiched myself between two kids. I am 6′ x 1″ tall and sitting with them made me look like the world’s largest 5 year old.

Preschool
Some very cute kids. But not the class I sat in. Close, really very close, but no. 

THE LESSON

It was an excellent class. She taught about Israel’s battle with the Amalekites and how Moses kept his arms lifted with the staff. If his arms lowered then Israel faltered, so, Aaron and Hur supported him to keep his arms up until Israel won.

“Hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.” 

Exodus 17:16

THE DISTRACTION

They impressed me with their answers to the teacher’s questions. They made me laugh. They made me proud. However, they were at times distracted by the presence of the world’s largest five year old. So, they would talk and ask me things.

Here is a sample…

  • “Why do you wear glasses?”
  • “Have you ever had acne?”
  • “I pray at bedtime for breakfast so I don’t have too in the morning.”
  • “Do you like my wheelchair picture?”
  • “What number comes after 19?”
  • “Can I have some more water please?”
  • “Do you have kids?”
  • “Do you have a brown crayon?”
  • “Are you coming back next time?”

The teacher knew how to manage them. She affected their behavior with affirmation and encouragement and was loving, gentle, and kind.

After the class, I had to quickly transition to 2nd service where I preached to hundreds of people, some of whom were parents of the kids in class. I can do that fine.

Teaching a class of five year old kids, not so much!

TO CLOSE

The Goldfish Crackers they had for a snack: less than $1.00

The paper copies of the lesson: less than $1.00

The green construction paper they used to make a prayer book: less than $1.00

The crayons they used to decorate their prayer book: maybe $5.00

A teacher affirming them and filling their hearts with God’s love: Absolutely Priceless 

 

 

 

 

Love Being a Dad

THE ASK

My daughter asked me to go car shopping with her. She is smart, capable and confident but still, she wanted her Dad to go with her. She had a car to trade in and quite a lot of cash to put down. She knew the style of car she wanted and was looking forward to driving models from two manufacturers.

I of course said, “Yes”.

We went on the last Friday of 2019. We met at a dealership about 9:00 and I asked her,

“Before we get busy with a salesman, tell me your goal, is it driving home in a new car?”

She said,

“No, I want to decide on the car I want and then shop online for the best price.”

I said, “Okay, good plan”.

Nine hours later she drove home in her new car.

THE TEST DRIVES

She drove the first model and liked it a lot. Then she drove a similar model and liked it less. Then we went to a different dealership. She gave their model a thorough test drive and talked with the saleswoman at length. We left and went somewhere to eat a quick lunch and process the next move.

She wanted to go back and drive that first car again. They still had a copy of her insurance card and license and so the salesman did a smart thing, he handed us the keys and said, “Go have fun”.

We did.

IMG_0049

By the time she finished negotiating their price and her trade it was late afternoon. After arriving at an acceptable deal she called her husband who was at work. They went back and forth for over an hour discussing all sorts of things. Once they finished she signed the paperwork.

He left his office and stopped to pick up the title to her car and then came to the dealership, arriving about 6:30. They hugged and we hugged, and then I said good bye. I was happy for her and proud of her, but I wasn’t ready for the day to end.

Kelsey and Me

Top Ten Things I Love About Helping My Daughter Buy a Car:

10. Her smile when she drove that first car.

9. Her resolve in getting the deal she wanted.

8. The questions she asked me throughout the day.

7. The way she looked at me when she wanted me to weigh in.

6. The things girls care about that boys don’t when it comes to cars.

5. The amazing array of stuff in her trunk that had to be collected.

4. How sweet she was on the phone with her husband.

3. The way she hugged me when it was finally finished.

2. Telling me how glad she was that I was her dad.

1. Getting to be a Dad to such a wonderful girl.

TO CLOSE

Drive thru coffee during a test drive: $8.79

A quick lunch to talk and process: $18.53

A late model hard-top convertible: $32,000

Getting to spend the whole day with my daughter: PRICELESS

The Loyal Sports Fan

Team loyalty gets me into trouble with the friendly and the not so friendly. I know, already you are asking, “What?” Well, does team loyalty necessitate an acidic hatred of all other players, coaches, teams and cities?

Some say a definitive yes. I dare to say a cautious no. 

Don’t hate me.

 FAN LOYALTY?

  • Root for the local team, hate all others.
  • If two local teams: swear undying loyalty to whoever came first.
  • Only wear the caps, shirts, jackets and underwear of your team.
  • Amp up support for post season events.
  • Face painting strongly recommended, but not absolute.
  • Body painting for men with weight problems acceptable.
  • Tailgate & halftime parties, snacks, and victory celebrations required.
  • Boo, hiss, complain, insult, yell, and throw things at opposing teams
  • (If watching on TV, ignore the thing about throwing stuff)

HERE’S A THING

What happens when your company relocates you to another city? Do you remain loyal to your old team or do you drop them and embrace a new one?

EXAMPLES…

If you get transferred from Boston to Dallas are you required to hate the Patriots and love the Cowboys?

If you get transferred from Houston to New York are you required to hate the Astros and love the Yankees?

I know, the wisdom of Solomon wouldn’t be enough. 

Speaking of loyalty, should you be loyal to your spouse only when you are in town? Can you be unfaithful as long as you are in another city? Shouldn’t spousal loyalty be absolute regardless of where you are? Does geography determine loyalty?

Here’s another: Do you still love America when you are out of the country? Based on Fan Loyalty Guidelines, when I’m in Port-au-Prince, Mexico City,  Beijing or Jerusalem I should be loyal to Haiti, Mexico, China and Israel. It’s just a thought.

AND ME?

Forty years ago I became a Florida Gator fan. It doesn’t matter why. We currently live in Houston, Texas and have for 23 years. It’s been tough as there are several college teams of note in this state. Here is how I’ve steered through these shark-infested waters.

Florida Field
That’s not me there on the left. Close, really very close, but no. 
  • I love the Texas Aggies, Longhorns, Red-Raiders, Cougars, Horned Frogs, Mustangs and Bears and just over 1200 high school teams.
  • I love the: Texans, Cowboys, Astros, Rangers, Rockets and Mavericks

Sure, I have my favorites, but I don’t boo, hiss, say horrible things or chuck stuff at the other players. Can I cheer, root, clap, and support my team without hating and denigrating the other teams and players?

NOW JESUS

His disciples once rebuked a man for trying to do miracles. Jesus told them to leave him alone, that he wasn’t their enemy.

Speaking of enemies, Jesus taught his followers to pray for them, to be kind to those who would persecute them, and to forgive everyone.

I know, it’s tough to discuss sports and fan loyalty when you bring Jesus into it. 

TO CLOSE

This morning I’m giving thanks that even though he loved his fellow Israelites, Jesus still offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for all others too. Like me.

Thank you Jesus for not booing, hissing, yelling or saying horrible things or throwing things at me because I’m not from Jerusalem. You are the best!

Shalom

Just Skating By

Last night we had an All Church Skate Party at Fun-City SK8 & Play. It was a blast. Mind you we didn’t get the whole church; I don’t think 445 families would have fit. But we had a lovely group and it was fun.

Skate Party 1
Not our skaters, close, really very close, but not the same.

SKATING?

I didn’t skate. I can skate. I know how to skate but I didn’t. Mostly, I didn’t want to fall down a lot. There, I said it. It’s possible that I could have gone around without falling but it wouldn’t have been probable. What would have been probable is that I’d fall and couldn’t get up,

“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” 

People would have helped me, at least the kids would have. There is nothing more kind, more sweet, or more reassuring than a pod of five year olds assisting you to your feet. Bless their skating little hearts.

THE QUESTION

Children of various ages asked why I wasn’t skating. Within the following responses is one honest answer. Can you discern which one?

  1. “I accidentally brought my ice skates instead of my roller skates.”
  2. “My skates have metal wheels and those aren’t permitted.”
  3. “My rollerskating skills would have intimidated you kids.”
  4. “I was a professional Roller Derby skater and now I have bad knees.”
  5. “Falling a lot would have been injurious to my ego and other parts.”

THE ADULTS

So, instead of skating I did what most of the adults did. I socialized while watching the kids, and some of their parents, go around and around and they did great. Hardly anyone fell. Well, one dad repeatedly fell and we tried not to laugh but we did.

CONVERSATIONS

Here are but a few of the conversations I enjoyed:

  1. Talked with a new family that’s been coming to church for a few weeks.
  2. Talked with a school teacher about her class and how it’s going.
  3. Chatted with a grandfather who was there to take pictures of his grandkids.
  4. Had some discussion with a couple of Dads who are in men’s group with me.
  5. Had conversation with some of our ministers who were there.

LEAVING

I left a little early. Went home to watch the Sunday Night Football game between the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints. Cowboys lost 12-10.

I should have stayed at the party.

IN CLOSING

It was fun and I’ll go again. Probably won’t skate, again. Probably will stand and socialize with parents and interact with the skaters, the kids going around and around and stopping to tease me for not skating.

It was a sweet time with some of my brothers and sisters and some very fun moments with those to whom Jesus has pledged his kingdom.

Maybe I need to invest in a new pair of skates.

Maybe not.  

Skate Party 2

Five Year Old Kids

KINDERGARTEN ASSISTANT

A woman in our Life Group asked if someone could help with her Sunday morning Kindergarten Class. Her usual assistant was dropping off a kid at college.

So I responded, “Sure, I’ll help.”

WHAT HAPPENED?

My duties were basically crowd control. You know, help them stay seated, keep them from getting crazy with their neighbors and make sure nobody got hurt.

The teacher, who is a professional school teacher, was phenomenal. Her teaching skills were impressive. Her ability to engage each child with respect and dignity was effective. She could do a lot with just the sound and tone of her voice.

If I had been the teacher I would have been outwitted, outplayed and outlasted by a bunch of sweet little five year old kids. I was barely getting by with crowd control.

kids
                          Not our Kindergarten class, not even close, our kids were cuter and smarter.  Maybe I’m just biased. Maybe?

SOME OBSERVATIONS

While making the first letter of their names with Play-Doh one kid asked another:

“Where does Play-Doh come from?” The kid shrugged and said, “I think it’s magic.” 

When asked what they knew about God and his Son:

“I think God and Jesus are basically the same person.” 

“Jesus went to the cross and there were fireworks.” 

When asked, “Can you name something God made that we can see.”

“TV” 

“Kids riding bikes. I saw a picture of it on the wall.” 

The Play-doh kid said, “Play-Doh.”

MY TAKE AWAY’S

They were adorable and smart. One child knew the days of creation, of what happened each day. One named four or five things she learned in school that week. One child wanted to talk and say all kinds of things. Some raised their hands when they wanted to speak or answer a question. I went away blessed to have been there.

I laughed, marveled and thanked God for such precious people. They were obviously from loving families who are talking about God in their homes. It was so sweet.

I think I’ll go back next week!

How Adorable Can You Get?

ON SUNDAY

Our church has a Family Ministry. It’s an 18 year curriculum for parents that’s organized by the milestones of a child’s life. The goal is for the church to partner with each family to support and equip them in their quest to raise Godly children.

One of the early milestones is a child transitioning from preschool to kindergarten. It’s a big deal for the child and can be a really big deal for moms and dads. This year, we have thirteen children entering Kindergarten.

Children's Blessing 1

On Sunday we recognized this milestone with our Family Ministry Team meeting with the parents to encourage them and pray over them. It was a beautiful thing. Then in our 2nd service we brought the kids on stage to give them a special blessing. It was sweet.

MORE THAN SWEET

But referring to it as sweet doesn’t capture all that it meant. It’s always precious to see young children in the spotlight but it’s so much more when we consider the significance those kids have and the special future God has planned.

  • Think about the amazing potential each one has
  • Consider the generations they will bring into the world
  • Imagine the impact they could have in their lifetimes
  • Embrace the endless possibilities that exist within a child’s heart
  • Rejoice that their young lives are being filled with Jesus Christ

children's blessing 2

PERSONALLY

I don’t remember kindergarten, I guess I went, but I don’t really remember. But one thing I know for sure, my church never brought me on stage or spoke words of blessing for a great future. They never prayed with my parents. I’m just grateful for those who have a better idea and are using their gifts and faith to help future generations.

TO CLOSE

They are adorable children, full of enthusiasm, unbridled energy, and souls as pure as new fallen snow. Jesus loves them. He loves all the little children. I think they are his favorite.

Have a great school year kids, you are loved and you are special!

Sonora Smart Dodd and What She Did

THE DAY AFTER

It’s the day after Father’s Day and all the working dads are back on the job. We got the day to celebrate and we are grateful, but it didn’t include Monday off so, back to work.

It’s okay, I had such a good time with my kids I’ll gladly start the new week back at work! Yesterday, we were about to give thanks at the dinner table when my son, who is thirty-five, asked, “Dad, do you have any wisdom?” He was being a bit snarky, but really he was  encouraging me to talk about being a father.

So I did. 

I told my son and daughter that being a father has been the greatest honor and joy of my life. That I love them more than ever and am thankful for them every day. I said how proud of them I am and how blessed I feel to be a Father. That’s what I said.

 I like Father’s Day, but I’m one of the lucky ones who has the sense that Father’s Day happens all through the year.

IMG_2003
One of my Father’s Day cards. Not a card thats close to the one I got, but the actual card

FATHER’S DAY? 

Did you know that Father’s Day started in Spokane, Washington, on June 19, 1910, by a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd? And why? Because she felt her dad deserved to be honored.

Her father was William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran and a man who had fathered six children, one of whom was, of course, his daughter Sonora.

GANG BUSTERS?

Father’s Day didn’t catch on. Sonora did what she could but life got busy and she let the banner drop. But in the 1930’s she renewed her zeal and restored her efforts and brought Father’s Day to a national awareness. She solicited help from the trade groups who benefited from Father’s Day, groups like the men’s tie manufactures and the tobacconists with their pipes and such. She succeeded in getting the New York Associated Men’s-Wear Retailers to commercialize Father’s Day. It took some time, but it worked.

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers. In 1972, it became  a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law. 

So, Happy Father’s Day and thanks to everyone who helped us get here!

And a special thanks to Sonora for her loving efforts. 

BUT ACTUALLY

The person deserving recognition is Mr. Smart. We honor him for his service, and for being such a good dad to his six kids. And by the way, Mr. Smart wasn’t just a conscientious father, he was also a single parent. Yep, he raised his family of six children on his own.

So we honor him for being the kind of father who inspired his daughter to grow up and invent Father’s Day.

And it’s been another great Father’s Day!