Back To The Future

On March 8, the Southeast church held its last in-person services until yesterday. That was twenty-six-weeks ago, or call it six months or half a year. 

When the Corona Virus pushed us to close, I predicted that it would last no more than six weeks. I was close, really very close, missing by only three and half months. But, it finally ended.

Yesterday was “Southeast Reopens Day.” Here are a few impressions:

  1. Even with face-coverings, it was apparent that everyone was happy and excited. It was in their eyes, and their eyes were sparkling. 
  2. The numbers indicated that half the congregation attended the live services, while the other half watched the live stream from home. 
  3. I wonder if our national circumstances have permanently altered the idea that “church” can only happen in one large building?
  4.  Preaching for six months to a empty worship center was a sad and lonely substitute for a live and joyful congregation.
  5. The worship was rich and robust. The prayers full of gratitude and faith. The Spirit was with us. Now, let me tell you about the biggest impression of all.

The Biggest Impression

We have a children’s contribution every week to help hundreds of Haitian kids receive a Christain education. For twenty-six weeks, our children have been saving their money in jars and cans. Yesterday, they finally got to give it. Their jars and cans were stuffed and overflowing. Child after child waited their turn to pour money into a large basket. It was beautiful and it overwhelmed me to tears. 

Another Prediction

It will take some time to determine where we are as a church. But that’s okay. It took twenty-six weeks to get us to yesterday; perhaps another twenty-six weeks will reveal our new normal, if there is such a thing. Meanwhile, its full steam ahead, its time to get back to the furture.

I will close with this:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.”

“What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can stand against us??

“No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

” Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(selections from Romans 8)

Agents 86 & 99–Kaos or Control?

Some of you will remember a sixties TV show called “Get Smart.” It starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, A.K.A. Agent 86, his partner Barbara Feldon known only as Agent 99, and Edward Platt who was always referred to as, “The Chief.”

It was a comedy spoof that ran from 1965-1970. I thought it was cool and funny. Max had secret-agent gizmos that he struggled to operate, but one that he used every week was his shoe phone. Yes, Agent Maxwell Smart had a phone in his shoe.

 

get-smart-tv-show
Secret Agent Stuff–The Amazing Shoe Phone. We All Wanted One!

 

Each episode was about a Washington agency named CONTROL doing battle with an evil empire known as KAOS. Agents 86 and 99 were sent to thwart whatever plan of tyranny KAOS had derived for the week. Of course, each mission was dangerous, and the intrepid agents would come close to falling or failing, but they never did.

Control and Kaos

Somebody once said that chaos and order aren’t enemies, only opposites. That they live side by side and are connected as if one couldn’t exist without the other.

Is there evil that results in chaos? Is there goodness that produces order?

By chaos and order, I’m not referring to organized versus unorganized. I’m referring to the conflicts and destructive impact of a life lived sinfully versus the peace and constructive value of a life lived in the Holy Spirit.

Unrighteousness leads to chaos while righteousness leads to divine order.

Jesus, our Messiah, said this:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness how great is that darkness?” 

Darkness and light or chaos and order. How are your eyes today? Have they allowed the light of Christ to shine within, or are they closed to keep your heart in darkness?

Are you living in the light of divine order or in the darkness of sinful chaos?

We live in a world that is referred to as fallen and broken. How did it fall? What broke it? Are we also fallen and broken? Is the darkness within us a great darkness?

Either we exist in chaos by our separation from God or in order by a divine connection. Either in darkness by sinful disobedience or in the light by divine holiness.

TO CLOSE

CONTROL and KAOS were elements of a thirty-minute show in the sixties. The light of holiness and the dark of sinfulness are elements of life today, of divine order versus human chaos.

Perhaps we all need some kind of shoe phone—something heavenly to keep us connected with the divine. Actually, we do. It’s the Messiah, it’s Jesus, our Lord, and Savior.

Have a blessed day.

A Grandmother & Five Grandkids

This past Saturday, I was at an event that was full of love, compassion, and generosity. We partner with a nonprofit called Hope Active. They exist to serve those in need, and their goal is to alleviate some of the sufferings of despair and poverty in Jesus’ name.

Some events that we have partnered:

  • A basketball camp for autistic children with Houston Rocket’s players
  • An annual day to give backpacks and school supplies to families in need, typically serving over 700 children each year.
  • An Angel Tree, gift-wrapping event to bless families for Christmas
  • Three times in the last two years, we have hosted Hope Active events in our gym.
  • Many Southeast members volunteer for these events.
  • Janel Hopper, our Children and Family Minister, is on the Hope Active board.

What I found most gratifying was how they served in the name of Christ. Because of Covid, the people who came remained in their cars, and when they reached the gift station, volunteers gave them the backpacks and supplies. It was a drive-through event.

Janel, along with her family, were outside serving. She told me this story.

A car pulled up with a woman and her five grandchildren. As I greeted her, she became emotional and began to weep. She talked about losing two of her sons, one a few years ago to a gunshot wound and one to leukemia last year. She was the sole care-provider for her grandchildren, and money was tight, and life was hard. But she was thankful that her son passed before the pandemic because it would have been so much harder with him being in isolation. I offered to pray with her and she immediately said yes. I asked God to help with her grief and anxiety and for her grandchildren.

She left with five new backpacks with school supplies. But also having been touched by the blessing of someone who cared. Someone who cared enough to pray for her.

Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, John 12:8. It’s a verse often misquoted, misapplied, and misunderstood. I have heard Christians reference the verse to justify not helping the poor, as if to say,

“Well, there’s no shortage of poor people, we can always help later.” 

Not at all sure that is what Jesus meant.

IN CLOSING

I wasn’t outside in the heat ministering to those in need. I was inside with air-conditioning doing data entry. It’s okay, it all has to be done. But I was one of four who were doing the data entry. The other three were women, African American women, and Hope Active is their primary ministry. They volunteer a lot, they want to help.

I spent a couple of hours with them and was blessed by their conviction. They genuinely desire to help the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters.

It was an event full of love, compassion, and generosity. I was blessed just to be there.

 

 

 

When Silence Speak Volumes

Someone once said that Jesus was color blind. Was he?

From an unknown source:

“Jesus didn’t see color. He only saw people. He saw everyone as a person first and then the other things second, if at all.

In his presence, people felt empowered by a love that was freely given, that wasn’t based on their appearance. People were his invention, made in his image, from every race and color.” 

AND ME?

I was raised to give respect and kindness to everyone, regardless of who they were. So, it was quite a surprise the first time I witnessed racism, and it affected me deeply.

It affected me like it did the first time I saw kids hurt another kid because he was different. It was at school.

Years later, I would see Christians offend other Christians because they were different. It was at church. 

I discovered that people could be cruel to those who were different.

 

AN OLD PROBLEM?

Some say that racism is something that happened long ago and no longer exists. 

Last week a friend told me that while serving a church in Alabama, her husband baptized an African American woman. The elders ordered the baptistry drained and scrubbed. Then he was fired.

I vividly remember the KKK marching close to the church I was serving, it stunned me.

Perhaps racism isn’t as widespread or as overtly violent as it once was, but it still exists, there is still violence, and it’s still a problem.

IS RACISM CHRISTIAN?

It isn’t Christian, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening. Here’s a question:

Is racism more of a social issue or a moral issue? 

Racism often gets parked in a social context, which can hinder believers from connecting it to Christ-centered truth.

An Illustration: Most Christians believe that abortion is sinful. They view it as a national stain and stand against it on moral grounds. 

Other Moral Issues:

  1. Sexual immorality
  2. Abuse of women and children
  3. Pornography
  4. Corruption 
  5. Discrimination 

These are identified as moral issues, but not racism.

It’s a sensitive and prickly thing, with plenty of piercing thorns that many preachers try to avoid. I’ve been preaching for forty years and have never delivered a sermon about the sin of racism. Why is that? Have I been afraid? Has it not been relevant to the churches I serve? 

Perhaps I’ve never accepted it as truly immoral. As a Christain leader, I’m to stand against immorality. If racism is sinful, then it’s a moral issue, and I should stand against it on those terms.

“Rather than build a bridge of connection, I created a bubble of silence.” 

I’ve sympathized with African American people, but not empathized. Sympathy allows me to feel bad, but not have to do anything. Empathy allows me to feel bad, and then to engage in their experience, to come alongside and be part of their story.

It can be complicated. Both sides eagerly list the sins of the other and willingly point the fingers of guilt and shame. It can be confusing.

A JOURNEY

I’m asking, “What would Jesus do, and what would he want me to do?”  

I’m reading books about race relations and discussing the problems with people of color. I participated in a webinar on black-white issues. I’ve met with two African American Pastors, saying that I had come to learn and to ask them to teach me.

I don’t have the answers. Frankly, I’m still learning the questions. But I know we must work towards peace. We should strive for the equality that Jesus died to provide, that there be no sides, only his sacred community.

TO CLOSE

I’m aware of an occasion when a white person refused to take a communion tray being passed by a black person. I’m aware because I saw it.

Folks, if we can’t gather together around the table of communion, how will we ever gather togather around the throne of glory? 

I think someone was right. Jesus is color blind.

Shalom

A Woman and a Well

People make attachments, it’s in our nature. Some things that I’m attached to:

  • The couch in the tv room.
  • The right side of our bed.
  • A morning cup of coffee.
  • An old pair of slippers.
  • The tv in our tv room.
These things don’t define me, they don’t determine who I am or establish my value. But I love them. I’m attached.
The question is: Are there attachments in my spiritual life? Are there ideas and beliefs with which I have made secure connections? The answer: Of Course!
  • A New Testament that I’ve used for 42 years.
  • Some traditions that I hold sacred.
  • Close friends with whom I share spiritual affinities.
  • Worship that feels secure, comforting, and expected.
  • Certain verses of scripture that reinforce my beliefs.

There are many, many more.

AN EXAMPLE

Jesus once spoke to a woman with attachments. He asked her to give him some water from a well. She reacted with surprise, if not shock because men didn’t speak to women in public unless they knew them. She had no idea who he was.

Jacobs well

Their conversation moved into the spiritual. When the woman grew uncomfortable, she claimed that the well belonged to the Patriarch Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson. And in her day, the land they were standing on was Samaritan, not Jewish. To her, the well was a physical manifestation of a sacred heritage.

Consequently, she didn’t need to listen to Jesus. Her faith and religion were well established by Jacob’s well. She was attached to the well, not for its water, but for its spiritual value.

However, he was the Messiah, and when she realized that he was, she went back to her village and told everyone that she had found the Lord’s anointed. She led them to Jesus, and they asked him to stay, and he did, for two days, and many of them believed.

Does it seem silly that she was so spiritually attached to a well? Or is it only a matter of time, place, and culture? Are we connected to anything that defines our faith and spirituality?

  • Sitting in the same seat every week.
  • An unchanging order of worship.
  • Needing to hear specific phrases and words in sermons.
  • How we look, what we wear to church.
  • An inflexible expectation regarding our traditions.
  • Unwillingness to distinguish tradition from the truth.

IN CLOSING

The woman didn’t wake up that day, knowing she would encounter the Messiah. She went to the well to get some water, but what she really needed couldn’t be carried in a bucket. He gave her living water, springing up from within, a wellspring of the Holy Spirit that would never run dry.

 

I Never Knew Buzz

Action figure toys have come a long way since I was a child. Back then, the closest thing to an AFT was a G. I. Joe doll. Did we call them “dolls” back then? Probably not since boys didn’t play with dolls.

Joe was released from the Hasbro Company on February 2, 1964, I was eight years old and that makes Joe 56 years old. He wasn’t a small, green army man, but a full 12″ tall. The commercials tagged him as, “A life like action soldier.” He was  tough, well trained, and a hero. Boys could imagine being like him.

I remember wanting one, but not asking, because I knew my older brothers would tease me about playing with dolls.

G.I. Joe Action Figure
Always wanted one, never got one. 

SUNDAY MORNING

Yesterday morning, at church, a little boy had an action figure toy with him. It was a Buzz Lightyear toy. Buzz is super-cool. If you aren’t aware, Buzz is a central figure in the “Toy Story” movie franchise consisting of four movies. They are so great.

Buzz Lightyear
Action figures have come a long way since I was a child.

He held Buzz up to me and I played with him for a moment, making him fly in the air with his jet pack and making the kind of noises that a young child can imagine. It was fun. I handed him back with a smile because just for a moment I was transported to when I was his age.

I guess there is a little boy or girl in each of us.

CHILDHOOD TOYS

My Favorites were:

  • A Tonka Truck
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Johny Seven Army gun
  • My big-boy bike

I’m older now and I don’t play with Action Figure Toys, not even life like action soldiers. But I have other, more sophisticated, things that I enjoy, not toys exactly, but kind of.

OTHER GIFTS

As a believer I have received gifts from God, from his Son and his Spirit. These aren’t Buzz or Joe toys, in fact, they aren’t physical or anything that could be held.

My Favorite Christian Gifts

  • forgiveness
  • grace
  • mercy
  • love
  • peace
  • joy
  • salvation
  • and many others

IN CLOSING

I never had a G. I. Joe or a Buzz Light Year. But I have the most precious gift of all,  the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Toys come and go, but receiving every spiritual blessing in Christ has proven to be the best of all!

 

 

 

 

A Beautiful Day For a Wedding

Sunday afternoon I was in College Station to perform a wedding. The happy couple are members of my church and have planned long and prepared well. It was a joy and an honor to officiate their wedding as a wedding is about getting married.

Yesterday they had their wedding, today they are married.

The word “wedding” comes from the Old English “weddian” meaning, “a pledge.” A wedding is the joining of two people who have pledged to each other.

A wedding gives birth to a marriage. 

Weddings are rich in tradition and range from the fabulously expensive big white wedding to two people standing in my office. Typically, weddings contain the following elements:

  • Someone to perform the ceremony
  • A wedding license
  • Vows or words of promise
  • Rings
  • A verbal response of “I do”
  • The pronouncement of “husband and wife”
  • A kiss of some kind

I perform on average six weddings a year. Some are held in churches while others are event/destination weddings. Some are members of my church and some are from the community. Half a dozen a year doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve been doing them for forty years.

Some observations from having officiated 240 weddings:

  • Grooms are typically nervous, perspire and wonder why all the expense and fuss.
  • It’s a priceless look on a groom’s face when he sees his bride walking up the aisle.
  • I’ve never seen a bride walk the aisle who wasn’t smiling radiantly.
  • Someone cries: the bride, groom, parent, grandparent, or all of them.
  • No matter what they say, wedding pictures never take “just a few minutes.”
  • Receptions are about: relief, joy, tears, celebration, pride, and a little sadness too.

Weddings are rich in tradition and laced with sacred customs.

KrisandraEvans.com | Atlanta Wedding Photographer | Yonah Mountain Vineyard
Not us, or our wedding place, but close, really very close.

I’ve performed weddings in huge churches, tiny churches, standing in two feet of snow, standing on the edge of mountain cliffs, next to rivers, in homes and wedding chapels, in the parlors of Bed and Breakfasts, in my office and all kinds of places.

The two most memorable weddings?

My own and my daughters.

 

 

 

 

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

What Kids Do

FROM PROVERS 22:15

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”. 

I guess that’s right, it sure seems to be.

  • Adam and Eve had trouble with Cain
  • Noah cursed one of his sons
  • Eli’s sons were wicked men
  • David had a son who plotted to steal his throne
  • He had another son who raped his sister
  • Isaac was lied to and deceived by a son
  • Jacob had sons who wanted to kill one of their brothers
  • Joseph and Mary had sons who didn’t believe in Jesus
  • Aaron’s sons were killed because of their foolishness
  • The children of Israel were stubborn, rebellious and sinful

WHAT ABOUT ME?

  • At five years old I buried my mom’s watch
  • At eight I set the back fence on fire
  • At eleven I got caught for public mischief
  • At twelve I got swats for talking too much in class
  • At fourteen I burned up some cotton trailers
  • At seventeen I went around town opening fire hydrants

WHAT ABOUT JESUS?

He was twelve when he separated himself from his parents and stayed behind in Jerusalem while they traveled north to Nazareth. When Joseph and Mary discovered he wasn’t with the caravan they headed back and it took them three days to find him. When they did, they were not happy. Nor were they impressed that he was sitting with the Rabbi’s studying and discussing the Torah.

TO CLOSE

I could tell stories of my own kids, but I won’t. But I’ll leave you with this. Kids can be foolish, impulsive, rebellious, unwise, disobedient and snarky. They are capable of mischief, breaking the law, fighting, stealing, cheating, lying, and other such behaviors.

Not all kids do all those things. I didn’t. But I did enough. Moms and Dads, I love you and pray for you and I know sometimes you want to pull your hair out. It’s okay, go ahead. But also know that from the first family on the planet to the very last, parents will know frustration and even heartbreak over what their kids can do.

Hang in there. You are in good company!

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”

World’s Biggest of its Kind

HERE’S SOMETHING

According to the internet the biggest car wash in the world is here in the Houston area.

Also big is the Astrodome that opened in 1965 and was the world’s first multi-purpose sports stadium and the first air-conditioned dome. It cost $35 million to build and into today’s economy would cost $278 million. It was dubbed,

“The Eighth Wonder of the World”

There is an anti-Astrodome group who lobbies to have it torn down to make room for  parking and green space. However, early in 2018 Harris County Commissioners voted unanimously to restore the Dome at a cost of $105.

POLITICS?

The chief advocate for Dome revival was Ed Emmett but he lost his seat on the Commission to Lina Hildago who steered the Commission to put a hold on Dome renewal believing that Houston needs to invest funds in flood control and other needs essential for a better quality of life for its residents. So once again, the debate rages and it seems unclear if the plans for the Dome will resume or not.

Dome 1Dome 2

NOW JESUS

One day in sunny Jerusalem, the Christ was teaching the crowds in the temple courts. Some of his disciples commented on the stones used for the temple, and rightly so, for  the base stones weighed 165,000 pounds each.

They said, “Look, Rabbi, What massive stones, what magnificent buildings”.

Jesus had some interesting interactions with stones, of which Judea had no short supply.

  • The temptation in the desert, “Tell these stones to become bread”.
  • “God can raise up these stones to become children of Abraham”.
  • Speaking of children, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.
  • “And they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus slipped away.”

Big or small, for good or evil, stones, rocks and boulders were a daily part of life in Judea. Houses were built of stone walls, as were fences and buildings.

He would also say of the temple to his impressionable disciples,

“All these stones will be torn down, not one will be left upon another”.

FOR HOUSTON

Houston has other impressive buildings, quite a few actually. But perhaps nothing as impressive as the Dome, or at least as it once was. Will it stand? Will it be torn down? Who knows?

But perhaps it’s not the most impressive thing. For somewhere in the Houston suburb of Katy is the world’s largest car wash. It’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records. Its 255 feet in length, which is almost a football field. Seems fitting since the Dome was the home of the Houston Oilers Football Team, as well as and Astros. It’s still home for the Houston Rodeo, which receives 2.5 million visitors annually.

TO CLOSE

I just ask that we take a moment to see Jesus, high and lifted up, and offer a simple word of praise to his name. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and is bigger than Buc-ee’s Car Wash.

Car Wash
Pretty Impressive Huh?