Friday, November 30, 2007


And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, "I bring you tidings of great joy. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:4-11)

"There's a problem with the angel," said a lawyer who happened to be strolling by the stable. As he explained to Joseph, angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and the stable was on public property where such symbols were not allowed to land or even hover.

"Besides," said another lawyer who was with him, "there are no such things as angels, and telling a child that they're real will only hinder the child's emotional development. And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks very much like a Nativity scene. That's a no-no, too."

Joseph had a bright idea. "What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and ass?" he said, eager to avoid sectarian strife.
"That would definitely help," said the lawyer, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a "savior" appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with deer or woodland creatures of some sort. "Just to clinch it, throw in a candy cane and a couple of elves and snowmen, too," he quickly suggested. "No court can resist that."
Mary, who had been listening in, asked, "What does my son's birth have to do with snowmen?"
"Snowpersons!" cried a young woman, changing the subject before it veered dangerously toward religion.

Off to the side of the crowd, a federally-subsidized artist was painting the Nativity scene. Mary pointed out that she and Joseph looked unusually tattered and worn in the picture. "Artistic license," the artist said. "I've got to show the plight of the haggard homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter," he quipped. “But we're not haggard or homeless. The inn was just full," said Mary. "Whatever," said the painter.

Two women began to argue fiercely. One said she objected to Jesus' birth "because it privileged motherhood." The other scoffed at virgin births, but said that if they encouraged more attention to diversity in family forms and the rights of single mothers, well, then, she was all for them.

"I'm not a single mother," Mary started to say, but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse, since they restrict the natural movement of babies.

With the arrival of ten child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd, where arguments were breaking out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and seasonal sprites) had to be installed to compensate for the infant's unfortunate religious character.

An older man bustled up, bowling over two merchants who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing to the side, jumping around like a sports mascot.

"I'd hold off on the reindeer," the man said, explaining that the use of asses and oxen as picturesque backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance. He passed out two leaflets, one denouncing manger births as invasions of animal space, the other arguing that stables are "penned environments" where animals are incarcerated against their will. He had no opinion about elves or candy canes.

Signs declaring "Free the Bethlehem 2" began to appear, referring to the obviously exploited ass and ox. Someone said the halo on Jesus' head was elitist.

Mary was exasperated. "And what about you, old mother?" she said sharply to an elderly woman. "Are you here to attack the shepherds as prison guards for excluded species, or just to say that I should have skipped patriarchal religiosity and joined some dumb new-age goddess religion?"

"None of the above," said the woman, "I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here." Sure enough, the three wise men rode up.

The crowd gasped, "They're all male! And not very multicultural!" "Balthasar is black," said one of the Magi.
"Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?" someone shouted.
A committee was quickly formed to find an alternative group of wise-persons who reflected the cultural, racial, and social diversity of Bethlehem. Just then a calm voice said, "Be of good cheer, Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world."
"At last, a sane person," Mary thought. She turned to see a radiant and confident female face.
The woman spoke again: "There is one thing, though. Religious holidays are important, but can't we learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide? For instance, instead of all this business about 'Gloria in excelsis Deo,' why not just 'Season's Greetings'?"

Mary said, "You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, 'Hello, it's winter'?"

"That's harsh, Mary," said the woman. "Remember, your son could make it big in midwinter festivals, if he doesn't push the religion thing too far. Centuries from now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other pricey gifts and have big office parties on his birthday. That's not chopped liver."

"Let me get back to you," Mary said.

In the meantime the Magi had been asked by others how much their gifts had cost, and when told the price several protested and said the money could have been better spent on the poor and homeless. "Besides," said one, "what can a baby do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh?"

"You don't understand," said one of the Magi, "we brought these gifts to honor and worship this child who has been born King of the Jews." Whereupon the child advocates protested that adults should not pre-determine a child's future. "It should be left up to the child to decide for himself what he wants to be."

One of the shepherds called out from the back of the crowd: "The prophet Micah wrote that out of Bethlehem would come a Ruler to shepherd God's people."

"That's just a myth," countered the head of the Prophet's Seminar who had just arrived with his committee. "We scholars have determined that the prophets actually said very little of what they are credited with saying, and everything they reportedly said about a Messiah was added years later by other writers."

"How did you determine that?" asked Joseph.

The most intelligent member of the Prophet's Seminar was chosen as spokesperson and replied, "We flipped a coin."

After much talking, the various advocates agreed to meet again at a later date in a place more suitable for them and continue their discussions about the child's welfare. Gradually they drifted out of the stable and left the shepherds and the Magi alone with Joseph and Mary and the child.

Mary took Joseph's hand and said, "Husband, tell me again what the angel Gabriel said to you about our son."

Squeezing her hand, Joseph answered, "He said that we should call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Mary looked down at her son and sighed deeply, and then said to no one in particular, "I wonder if they will let Him?"

(Thanks to Harold Chadwick at Omega Faith Ministries for his article that inspired this blog post. I have taken his original idea and made slight revisions.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

POTENTIAL REGRET: Let it motivate you NOW!

As I’ve been preparing my weekly message, I am focusing on the judgment seat (bema) of Christ. The difficulty of message-preparation is that the truth of the biblical text must flow through me before I can share it with others. As I consider what will happen when I stand before the Lord to receive the rewards (or lack thereof) for what I’ve done (or not done), I am painfully aware of my own shortcomings and failures.
However, at the same time, I realize the bema won't be a time of CONDEMNATION but a time of COMMENDATION; it won't be a time of PUNISHMENT but a time of PRAISE; and it won't be a time of REBUKE but a time of REWARD. I'm not interested in rewards for the sake of rewards; I just long to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Over the past 37 years in ministry, I have tried to serve the Lord with diligence and faithfulness. Why? Not to earn salvation, or to even repay Him for His grace (I cannot be a debtor to grace, because it’s impossible to repay the debt of love I owe). I have simply and solely desired to bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ by faithfully loving Him, seeking His face, and serving Him.

There might be some outsiders who would look at my (God's) "ministry” and declare that I’ve done a lot. However, I am aware that as much as God has blessed and used me, I too have fallen short of the potential and gifts that He has given me. This possibility of experiencing regret at the bema motivates me to be more faithful and to stay faithful to Him who called me.
American Poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) wrote, "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), who was a contemporary of Whittier and author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," had this to say: "The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone." What are these two like-minded individuals telling us? The saddest words of all are the words of regret, especially if they are uttered at one's deathbed.

Without becoming “preachy” in this blog, I wonder if you and I both need to ask ourselves if there are some things that we don’t want to leave undone? Are there letters to relatives you've left unwritten, telephone calls left undone, family time left unspent, broken relationships left unrepaired, and goals left abandoned? That wouldn't be a problem if we were immortal, for then we could always do those things "someday" in the future. But we're not. We have a limited amount of time available. To avoid experiencing "the saddest words of all," to avoid facing the bema with regret, we need to get out of the habit of leaving things undone.What value is a blossom that doesn't open? What value is our life if we don't fulfill the potential God has given us? If we surrender to Him and allow His power to flow through us , then when opportunity strikes, we will lead fulfilled lives. But those who lead lives of inaction are like stones in a field that exist but have never truly lived.
Are there things you've done or failed to do that you regret? (Of course, what a silly question!) After all, we're human, which is another way of saying we're imperfect. So, there's no need to panic or obsess over our regrets. Instead, we can use regret to our advantage. First, we can use the regrets about our past as a positive force in the future. We can accept them as a wakeup call. Second, we can avoid the potential regrets of the future by letting them spur us on to new behavior by choosing to act, not postpone. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, "Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh."
When we close the gap between what God created us to be and what we are now, we will have a sense of humble satisfaction – which leads to a healthy, God-inspired self-image. Low self-esteem is due to a huge gap between the two. How can we fail if we always remember we have the choice between becoming better or becoming bitter?
We need to refocus our attention from our failures and regrets to the opportunities that beckon us. As Jerome K. Jerome wrote, "Opportunities flit by while we sit regretting the chances we have lost, and the happiness that comes to us we heed not, because of the happiness that is gone." Sometimes we avoid confronting our regrets because of the pain. But that's a mistake. Use them as a lesson, as a stepping-stone to more faithfulness to God. "At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal," said Barbara Bush. "You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent."

Max Lucado has written: "Go to the effort. Invest the time. Write the letter. Make the apology. Take the trip. Purchase the gift. Do it. The seized opportunity renders joy. The neglected brings regret."

My two daughters are grown now and I’m learning how to be a grandfather, but when I read this poem by Diane Loomans, it resonated in my soul.
If I had my child to raise all over again,
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd fingerpaint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less and know to care more.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious and seriously play.
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging and less tugging.
I'd see the oak tree in the acorn more often.
I would be firm less often and affirm much more.
I'd model less about the love of power.
And more about the power of love.
I think that great theologian, Madonna, sang a song once about "The Power of Goodbye." My study of this subject has led me to see "The power of regret." I want to allow the potential of future regret to motivate me to never miss an opportunity to let my light shine that others may see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven. How about you?

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I love football. I loved playing it in high school and college, and I enjoy watching it now. Growing up in LA (lower Alabama), there weren’t any professional teams in our state, so college football reigned. Ninety-five percent of the residents of Alabama are interested in Alabama/Auburn football, and about 40% of Alabama residents are CONSUMED by Alabama/Auburn football.

Where I come from, you have to declare by about the third grade whether you’re an Alabama Crimson Tide fan or an Auburn Tiger fan – and you can only change loyalty ONCE in your life without losing everyone’s respect. For most residents, it’s not a choice because unless you want to risk being cut out of your parents' or grandparents' will, you will support the team your family supports.

This rivalry bleeds over into business and politics. Besides Republicans and Democrats, Auburn and Alabama alliances are utilized. There are “Alabama” banks and busineses and “Auburn” banks and businesses.

I grew up during the time of legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who was purported to be only the second man to walk on water. A typical joke ran like this: One cold winter evening, Bear Bryant came home after a high school recruiting trip. He crawled into bed and his wife said, “God, your feet are cold!” Bear replied, “Honey, when we’re alone you can call me Paul.”

It was hard to choose against Coach Bryant, but I decided at an early age to be an Auburn fan. Don’t ask me WHY they are the Auburn TIGERS, but their motto is “WAR EAGLE!” And don’t ask me WHY it’s the Crimson Tide, but their mascot is an Elephant.

The fable I like to tell is that years ago during an Auburn game, a Golden Eagle swooped down over the playing field and the announcer said, “Ladies, and gentlemen, look at that eagle.” And since everyone talks with a noticeable drawl in Alabama they all looked up and said as one voice, “WHAR EAGLE?” But I doubt that story is true.

For years, Alabama regularly trounced Auburn in the annual “Iron Bowl.” It was called that because it was played in Birmingham at Legion Field which is in the shadow of the old US Steel Iron works. It was supposedly a neutral site, but with Tuscaloosa just 45 minutes down I-20, it always seemed like a home game to Alabama. The game has since been moved to alternate between Auburn and Tuscaloosa where they each have stadiums that can seat almost 80,000 fans. An Auburn/Alabama ticket is hard to get. It’s still the most important sporting event in Alabama. A team can lose every game of the season, but if they win the Alabama/Auburn game, the season was a success. Coach Mike Shula was a great coach for Alabama, but he's gone because he just couldn't beat Auburn.

Alabama still holds the edge in the series (38-32-1), but there have been some notable Auburn victories. One of the most memorable came in 1972 when Alabama was leading 16 to 3 late in the fourth quarter. Auburn blocked a punt and ran it into the end zone to make it 16 to 10. Then, with only seconds remaining, Alabama punted again, and Auburn blocked it again and scored for a 17-16 win. For years after that you could see bumper stickers that said: PUNT BAMA PUNT!

But Auburn has beaten Bama the last five meetings and 7 of the last 10 games. One of the nice things about living in Texas for the past 16 years is that I haven’t had to hear about Auburn/Alabama football 365 days a year. They take it so seriously that when I was a pastor in Gardendale, Alabama I had to chide the people to come to church the day after the big game even if their team lost. One Sunday morning I showed up for church on the morning after an Iron Bowl that Alabama had won and there was a 40 ft banner hanging in the baptistry that said, “ROLL TIDE.” And I’m certain there were some men in our church who never sang a word in a hymn until we came to that line from “Jesus saves” that says, “Waft it on the ROLLING TIDE, Jesus saves, Jesus saves!” You could actually hear the volume increase on that line!

I still pull for Auburn, but since my oldest daughter, Jenni, graduated from OU and my younger daughter, Laura Grace, is in graduate school there, I’ve become an Oklahoma Sooner fan. As I watched Adrian Peterson break the NFL rushing record a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think that he should be playing as a senior at OU this year.

Of course in Tyler, many of us are also pulling for LSU this year. Matt Flynn, the starting QB, is from Tyler and a member of Green Acres. He waited patiently in the shadow of Jamarcus Russell to get his chance to play and now LSU is at the top of the BCS standings.
Because OU went to sleep in their only loss at Colorado, they’re stuck at #4 in the BCS poll. I think Missouri will beat Kansas, and OU will beat either Kansas or Missouri in the Big 12 Championship game. But I’m afraid that won’t be enough since Oregon is currently #2. I’d love to see OU and LSU in the BCS Championship game on January 7, but unless the Ducks sink, it probably won’t happen.

I’m also a Dallas Cowboys fan and Tony Romo and Coach Phillips has the ‘Boys at 8-1 this year. But to be honest, I like college football 100 times better.

How about you? What are you thoughts about the College/Pro game? Who should be #1? Let me hear from you ……

Monday, November 5, 2007


I am generally reluctant to criticize any other religious body even if I believe their doctrine is suspicious. But I can no longer remain silent about the so called “church” that really isn’t a church at all.

They call themselves Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Maybe you’ve seen “members” of this church as they picket public events displaying signs that say things like:


Offshoots of this hate group have sprung up in other places, including East Texas. Members of Green Acres may remember some of the “painted buses” that were parked outside our facility on multiple occasions. Their painted slogans blasted me (even though they couldn’t even spell my name correctly!) comparing me with (horrors!) other heretics like Billy Graham. The purpose of these groups is to try to intimidate people. They yell at people trying to approach worship (while being sure to stay on public sidewalks rather than church property). They hope some church member will get fed up and slug them which would lead to a lawsuit, and most-often a generous out-of-court settlement.

At the risk of being picketed again, I’m ready to go on record in saying:

Westboro Baptist Church isn’t a church at all – it’s a hate group and a cult that calls itself a church to hide its cowardly behavior behind the laws that protect religious organizations.

Their core “belief” is that homosexuality is a crime that should be punished by death, and that all of America’s problems, (and the world’s) stem from the practice of homosexuality. This premise misguides their practice of expressing hate toward everyone who doesn’t embrace their extreme position.

This cult was founded by Fred Phelps in 1955 when he was kicked out as pastor of a more traditional Baptist Church in Topeka, Eastside Baptist Church. Although they have “Baptist” in their name, they are not affiliated with any Baptist group. The “church” is comprised primarily of the children and grandchildren of Phelps and another family, the Hockenbargers, who followed Phelps when he was forced out of Eastside Baptist Church. Since the church has few new members, and does not allow members to marry outside the church, this has led to a narrow family tree comprised of descendents of these two families. (Remember John Denver’s song, “I’m My Own Grandpa?”)

Phelps’ oldest daughter, Shirley, is the founder of the Phelps Chartered Law Firm, and the main spokesperson for the hate group. She is a shrewd attorney who stretches the law to its full extent to protect the church’s expressions of hate. They claim that soldiers dying in Iraq, 9/11, Katrina, and the California fires are “God’s judgment against America.” Well, Westboro’s judgement has already arrived.

Two weeks ago a federal judge awarded nearly $11 Million to the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, one of our brave soldiers who died in Iraq. Phelps and his hate-group picketed Snyder’s funeral in 2006 displaying signs that said, “Thank God for Dead Soliders.” The jury awarded Albert Snyder $2.9Million in compensatory damages, $6Million in punative damages for invasion of privacy and $2Million for emotional distress.

The cult routinely pickets military funerals displaying their signs, but this is the first time they have been successfully sued for their hateful behavior. Phelps responded by saying that they plan to continue picketing military funerals (as well the funerals of the seven college students who died in the house fire in North Carolina recently). Westboro has appealed the verdict and Phelps has bragged that “it will take about five minutes to reverse that.”

We need to pray that the appeals courts don’t allow this cult to get away with their hateful behavior under the guise of a church. We must also inform as many people as we can that “Westboro Baptist Church” has nothing to do with “Baptist” and even less to do with a “church.”

A real church doesn’t tolerate any kind of sinful behavior, but it doesn’t consider one particular sin more heinous than others. And a true church of Jesus Christ offers the solution of grace and forgiveness rather than simply pointing out the sin.

I wonder if this scripture has been read and studied at Westboro “Baptist Church?”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)