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On a recent drive from Texas to Broken Arrow, I made a “necessity stop” at a fast food restaurant in a small town in southeastern Oklahoma. On the inside of the restroom door I noticed some graffiti. It read, “Obama is a secret Muslim.” My first reaction was one of being pleasantly surprised that the Sharpie-wielder did not inscribe any profanity, phone numbers, or inflammatory comments about the menu or service at the eating establishment. I was further impressed by the lavatory tagger’s political consciousness, although he chose an extremely limited and remote forum in which to sound his alarm about Islamic subterfuge in our nation’s highest office.

Rumors and urban legends have abounded about President Barack Obama ever since he announced his candidacy back in February of 2007. Earlier today, I Googled the phrase “Obama is a secret…” As I was typing, a couple of prompts appeared with suggested endings. One ending was “Muslim”; the other was “Jew.” Wow! A secret Muslim and a secret Jew! Now, there’s a conspiracy for you!

But, let’s consider the allegation at face value, that a U.S. President who claims to be a Christian is actually a Muslim in disguise. From what I have noticed about devotees of Islam, there is not a lot of stealth or subtlety in the practice of their faith: dietary and cleanliness regulations, five times of prayer each day, fasting during Ramadan, distinctive dress, Friday services at the mosque, etc. It seems to me that a Muslim who hasn’t “outed” himself would not be much of a Muslim at all.

So, I’m not worried about President Obama being a secret Muslim. But I do wonder how many “closet Christians” might be roaming the halls of government in Washington, our state legislatures, city halls, courthouses, shopping malls, and sports facilities. You know who I am talking about: people who deep down make a claim to faith in Jesus Christ as the Divine Son of God and the only way of salvation but who never really reveal any evidence of those convictions through their speech, attitudes, and behavior. I remember a question that my father asked during a sermon when I was a boy, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Am I afraid of “secret Muslims?” Not really. Am I extremely concerned about “secret Christians?” You bet!

Many of you know that since March 1 I have been in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area serving as the new pulpit minister for the Broken Arrow Church of Christ and that my family has remained in Carrollton, Texas, allowing the children to complete the school year. Thankfully, our days apart are drawing to a close. Hannah will graduate from Newman Smith High School on June 7, and the following day all of us will hit the road for Oklahoma. We are scheduled to close on a house in Tulsa next Friday, May 29. Please pray with us that everything proceeds smoothly with the purchase of the home. God has so generously taken care of our every need thus far, and it will be such a huge relief and blessing to have our family back together in one house (and state) again.

Over the last three months I have been able to make several trips back to Texas, often leaving after Wednesday night services for the four-hour drive to Carrollton, and then returning to Broken Arrow prior to Sunday. On a few of those late Wednesday night drives I have listened to Deutsche Welle Radio (Germany’s international broadcaster) which is aired (in English, thankfully!) at 9:00 p.m. on Tulsa’s Public Radio station KWGS 89.5. I find it interesting (often enlightening; sometimes amusing) to listen to different perspectives on world news and current events.

Last Wednesday evening, Deutsche Welle aired a story about Gerd Honsik who is currently on trial in Austria and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. His crime? Denial of the Holocaust. In Austria, it is illegal to propagate the idea that Nazi Germany did not wantonly exterminate millions of Jews. Now, I honestly don’t understand how someone could maintain that the Holocaust never happened, but I also can’t understand how a country (and a European one at that!) could punish someone for their ideas and their speech, regardless of how wrong and irrational they may be. Disagree with Mr. Honsik? Absolutely! Demonstrate the error of his thinking? Certainly! But, jail him? Apparently, some subjects have become so sensitive that opposing viewpoints cannot even be allowed to be heard. A bit scary, if you ask me!

What about us? Are we willing to listen to those with whom we may disagree, and then test the spirits to see whether or not they are from God (I John 4:1) and examine the Scriptures to see if those things are true (Acts 17:11)? Or, do we merely surround ourselves with those who say exactly what we want to hear (II Timothy 4:3)? Truth has nothing to fear in the open discussion of ideas! “Come now, and let us reason together,” (Isaiah 1:18)!

I stopped by a Whataburger restaurant last night for some take-out. Some of you just read that last sentence with no difficulty or questions whatsover. Others of you, depending on the where you live, have absolutely no idea “what a Whataburger is!” The fast food chain had its origins in 1950 in Corpus Christi, Texas, and now boasts over 700 stores, mostly in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana, although you can also find Whataburgers in certain parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. When I moved to Texas 12 years ago, I started seeing Whataburgers all over the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but it was still several more years before I actually visited one. I guess it was just a little “outside the burger box” for me. The stores feature a signature A-frame roof with orange and white stripes. Menu items have unique nomenclature like Whatameals (combos) and Justaburger (the less expensive, stripped-down model of the hamburger). However, I finally came to accept that the food is really quite good, and it has entered the fast food rotation in the Pyles family.

Anyway, I stepped up to the counter at Whataburger last night and ordered a Whatachick’n sandwich to go. As I placed my order, the pleasant, smiling young lady (and apparent new employee) behind the cash register turned to her manager and asked, “Is a Whatachick’n the fish?” Now, I know that some of the menu items have unusual names and I can appreciate that this may have been the young lady’s first night on the job, but still! “Is a Whatachick’n the fish?!?” The manager patiently explained, “The Whatacatch is the fish. Whatachick’n is chicken.” “Oh,” the cashier replied, “I still get those two confused!”

If you are expecting me to tie this story in to some awesomely powerful spiritual message or a cleverly relevant life application, I’m afraid you are going to have to fill in those blanks for yourself. I can’t stop laughing long enough to think about it.

On Wednesday, Kim and I closed on the sale of the house in which we have lived for the last 12 years. People who have lived in the same hometown for most of their lives would probably not consider 12 years to be an extremely long period of time. Yet, for me, it constitutes a significant portion of my life. Having moved around quite a bit when I was growing up and in my young adulthood, it was a new experience for me to live in the same house for 12 years. I spent 26% of my entire life in that house in Carrollton, Texas. (Yes, math geeks, that makes me 46 years old!) It is the house where Kim and I have spent over half of our married life and where we raised our children. I can’t tell you how excited I am that our family will be completely relocated to Broken Arrow in about three weeks. Still, despite my great anticipation, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness as we closed on the house and as the Sanchez family stopped by on Thursday to look at “their” new house. We are their “renters” for the next three weeks!

Last week was a good opportunity for me to tune my theology in with my life and emotions. Biblically, I am completely convinced that I am a “tenant” for my entire sojourn upon this earth. I am “a stranger and an exile” (Hebrews 11:13) who, like Abraham, seeks a city with foundations (11:10) and “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (11:16). I know that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” so why do I seem to get so easily attached and hung up on the things of this world as if they are permanent? These “treasures on earth” can be a deceptively huge distraction from the things that ultimately matter in life and in eternity. It is “relationship” not “real estate” that makes the Pyles family what it is. It is “love” not “location” that ultimately matters. The same goes for our spiritual family in Christ’s church. Yet, churches, too, can just as easily get overly “attached” (and even prideful) about mere buildings and physical locations. I pray that I (and we) will be reminded to not get so fixated on “brick and mortar” but to concentrate more on faith, hope, and love.

Almighty Father,

You are worthy; worthy to receive honor, glory, adoration, and praise! You are mighty; You spoke into existence everything that is in Creation. You spoke, and it was done. Such power is beyond my comprehension. Your Word is an irresistible call to the elements. There is no debate, no negotiation, and no resistance. You spoke and it was done. You commanded and it occurred.

You are awesome in Your mighty strength. I praise You as the one, true, and Living God, my Father, my Savior Jesus Christ, and my Blessed Holy Spirit. What am I that You would love me, care for me, protect me, provide for me, and sustain me? I am a speck in this universe, and yet, You know me, my every thought, my every feeling, and every cell in my body. You know me better than I know myself.

You are the Sovereign of this universe. No power can stand before You. Kings, rulers, presidents, prime ministers, and princes only have the power that You permit them to possess. May they all acknowledge Your power and authority.

I praise You through Your Son Jesus Christ, Amen!

I was listening to the radio this morning on the way to the Civitan’s Pancake Breakfast that is held each year during the Rooster Days Festival here in Broken Arrow. I’ll have to share a future post about Rooster Days, which is celebrating its 78th year of observance! Anyway, I was listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio (yes, I’m an NPR listener; say what you will!), and there was an interview with Steve Forbert, a singer/songwriter with whom I was completely unfamiliar. Forbert, age 53 and a native of Meridian, Mississippi, was once called “the new Bob Dylan.” I imagine that the “Next-Bob-Dylan” Tribe is pretty numerous by now! Forbert’s biggest hit was Romeo’s Tune which reached #11 on the Billboard charts back in 1980. I YouTube-d the song this afternoon and easily recognized and remembered it, but I had never known the title of the song or who had recorded it.

Forbert is still making music and recently released a new album. In his NPR interview with Steve Simon, he played one of his new tracks entitled Stolen Identity. I found it to be a very clever song, one that puts a light-hearted twist on the rampant and highly-damaging problem of identity theft. Hope you enjoy the lyrics.

STOLEN IDENTITY

I worked all week each month this fall
and also had myself a ball;
I punched a clock each day like most
and also shopped the whole east coast!

CHORUS:
There aint no tellin’ where I’ll be,
Because of late there’s two of me
And one has tons of fun for free
With my stolen identity!

I bought two suits in Baltimore
And jewelry on the Jersey shore;
I popped up next in Portland, Maine
For lobster tails and French champagne.

(REPEAT CHORUS)

What have I done? where have I been?
The information’s rollin’ in;
A paper trail comes in the mail,
I’d like to put myself in jail!

An ev’ning out on Harvard Square,
I really lived it up up there!
I did it all, I got around
And not once left my old home town!

(REPEAT CHORUS)

I’ve got to stop myself somehow,
I have become a problem now;
I really should be done with it,
But I just don’t know when to quit!

I hope to meet myself someday,
That is the man whose bills I pay;
We’ll both get wined and caviared
If he’ll pull out a credit card.

An angry husband’s at my door,
I have not met his wife before;
He’s not convinced and wants t’ fight,
I guess I had some fun last night!

(REPEAT CHORUS)

© S. Forbert 2008, Heathercom Music, ASCAP

Bear with me on this one, okay? I’ve got to provide a little context. For decades, people have been moved and inspired by the poem, “Footprints in the Sand.” Long attributed to “Anonymous,” authorship is now generally attributed to Mary Stevenson who penned the words in 1936 at the age of 14. You know the gist of the poem: a person has a dream about walking along the beach with Jesus. As scenes from past experiences flash before them, the individual notices that at times there are two sets of footprints in the sand, and at other times, most notably periods of great personal difficulty, there was only one set. The author was tempted to think that Jesus had abandoned them in these hours of trial, until the Lord offered this explanation: “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand is when I carried you.” It is a tender depiction of the Savior’s love and compassion for our “weary and heavy-laden” hearts and His willingness to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

But, what about those times when we should have grown strong enough and mature enough to walk on our own, but kept insisting that we be carried? I suppose this question is what inspired(?) someone to write the following. I offer it for your edification or amusement, whichever one you are in most need of today.

BUTT PRINTS IN THE SAND
(Author Unknown)

One night I had a wondrous dream,
One set of footprints there was seen,
The footprints of my precious Lord,
But mine were not along the shore.

But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord, “What have we here?
Those prints are large and round and neat,
But Lord, they are too big for feet.”

“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”

“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up,
And there I dropped you on your butt.”

Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”

I made a confession on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about my growing addiction to QuikTrip doughnuts. My openness helped me learn some valuable information about this “new-to-me” social networking website. You can add posts about matters of faith, politics, and culture with minimal to no commentary at all from your friends in Facebook-land. But, make a comment about doughnuts and QT and an avalanche of comments will soon follow! I just did not yet properly understand the hierarchy of priorities on Facebook. Now I know!

We had QuikTrips in the Dallas area where I lived for the last twelve years, but I didn’t learn until coming to Broken Arrow that it is a Tulsa-based company. So I did some online research and found a lot of interesting information: QT stores have up to 24 gasoline pumps; there are 520 stores in 10 large metropolitan markets; the 500th store opened in Broken Arrow in May of ‘08; QT has its own line of foods from QT Kitchens. But the most fascinating fact involved why there are no QTs in Oklahoma City. There is a “gentlemen’s agreement” between QT CEO Chester Cadieux and the owner of the 7-Eleven stores in Oklahoma City not to compete in each other’s markets. So, there are no QTs in OKC and no 7-Elevens in Tulsa. Apparently, there is no contractual or legal obligation not to compete, just a “handshake” and taking the word of a business competitor at face value! What a refreshing revelation in this dog-eat-dog, competitive culture that looks for loopholes and buries surprises in the small print of contracts.

God wants us to speak and act with that kind of integrity, so that our word is our bond. We serve the God of truth (Isaiah 65:16), whose very nature prevents Him from speaking a lie (Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2). We follow and are clothed with Him who is the Truth (John 14:6). We are personally indwelled by the Spirit of Truth (John 14:16-17). Falsehood was a part of the old self of sin. “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its practices,” (Colossians 3:9). Mr. Cadieux and his competitor reminded me that Jesus taught us to let our “yes” be “yes” and let our “no” mean “no.”

(Tim’s BA bulletin article, 5-3-09)

A couple of years ago, I received several chain emails about the Presidential $1 coins that were being released by the U.S. Mint. Images of the front and back of the new coins were included in the email, the point of which was to decry the fact that “In God We Trust” had been intentionally omitted from the coins. This was cited as more evidence of the conspiratorial undermining of Judeo-Christian values in our nation. The email (which belonged to the genre, “Real Christians Will Forward This”) called for a boycott of the coins and urged a refusal to accept them as change. “Together,” the email promised, “we can force them out of circulation!”

My first thought when I received the emails was, “These coins probably don’t need a lot of help staying out of circulation.” Just ask Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea. The $1 coins bearing their images have found their way into my pocket with the rarity of four-leaf clovers. We Americans like to fold our dollars, not jingle them.

My second thought was, “This has ‘all-the-facts-are-not-in-yet’ written all over it.” Sure enough, it wasn’t long before clarifying and corrective information was available. As part of a radical new design utilized for the coins, the year of minting, the motto from the Great Seal of the United States, “E Pluribus Unum,” and the national motto, “In God We Trust,” were all inscribed on the coin’s edge. So, the critics’ concerns and objections were laid to rest by this explanation, right? You don’t know many conspiracy theorists, do you? The response from the “coin-gate” crowd was that “In God We Trust” had been etched on the coin’s edge so that it would wear off once in circulation. Tell you what….start rubbing the edge of one of those coins between your fingers, and let me know how long it takes for the words to disappear. Pardon me if I don’t wait up.

My third thought was, “Has anybody ever thought to ask God whether or not He wants His name on our money?” Let’s see, what all can you do with our legal tender? You can buy alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and porn. You can pay a prostitute with it, feed a slot machine with it, or throw it away on lottery tickets. I’m not so sure that God wants His name associated with those kind of transactions. Even when we use our money for morally neutral or intrinsically good purposes, do we really consciously consider how much we trust in God when we buy a movie ticket, pay the toll on the turnpike, or get our chocolate fix out of the vending machine? Do we demand that “In God We Trust” appear on our credit cards, debit cards, or checks? Just asking, and wondering how far we might need to carry the boycott.

Jesus once used a coin as a visual aid in answering a trick question about paying taxes. In His response, He failed to mention anything about the need to mix God’s name with Caesar’s image. I assume the same would go for the likenesses of Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin.

Let’s save our energy for real battles. When we over-reactively cry, “Persecution!,” we dishonor those who truly suffer for their faith.

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