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I am not going to write much today, simply because I would rather you invest the next several minutes watching the linked video.  It is a very moving and inspiring story about Butch Varno and the athletes at Middlebury College in Vermont who have been “picking up Butch” for 50 years (!!!) to attend athletic events at the school.  Any more commentary from me would just detract from the beauty and power of the story.  

For some reason I couldn’t get the video embedded, so just click the “Picking Up Butch” link below.  It will take two mouse clicks and you will have to endure a 15-second commercial on ESPN’s website prior to seeing the video.

Enjoy! 

Tissue?

Picking Up Butch 

I love learning new words and gaining insights from word etymologies, especially when they come from roots in ancient Greek.  I can almost hear the “chorus of mouse clicks” from those who just tuned out and moved on to something of much greater interest in cyberspace.  It’s okay; I don’t take it personally.  I accepted long ago that some of the things that really charge my battery and fascinate me to the point of giddiness can cause other people’s eyes to glaze over and their minds to wander off in search of a mental “happy place.”

One of the reasons that I am such a slow reader is that, if I come across an unfamilar word, phrase, or point of reference, I’ll get seriously sidetracked in looking for a definition, derivation, or explanation.  It may be 30 or 45 minutes before I wind my way back around to the text I was reading.  The internet has further fed my addiction in this regard.

Last week, I was reading an article and came across the word “somnolence.”  To my knowledge, I had never seen the word before, and the context of the sentence didn’t prove to be very helpful in deciphering the word’s meaning.  As I frequently do, I consulted Miriam Webster Online.  It turns out that somnolence means, “the quality or state of being drowsy; sleepiness.”  Somnolent, the adjectival form of the term, means “of a kind likely to induce sleep.”  But, here’s the kicker and the reason for bringing all of this up.   The example of usage that was provided for the adjective was, “a somnolent sermon.”  Ouch!  Out of an entire universe of possible causes for sleepiness among humans, they chose a sermon as their illustration.

In 27 years of preaching, I have witnessed a significant amount of snoozing among the saints.  There are numerous reasons why someone might succumb to a wave of drowsiness during a sermon:  medication, shift work on the weekend, being up with a crying infant for most of Saturday night, etc.  While there is much that the visual vantage point of an elevated pulpit allows one to see, there is still a lot of activity that escapes my notice simply because I am so focused on the message when I am preaching.  I have lost count of the number of times over the years that someone has apologized to me for falling asleep during the sermon, effectively offering a confession of something about which I was totally unaware until they told me. 

I really don’t mind folks falling asleep during the sermon if they will at least commit to several minutes of intense battle before being overcome by slumber.  It is one thing to just cave in and surrender your consciousness with no resistance at all.  But, those who valiantly fight to stay awake, who repeatedly risk whiplash injuries with violent head nods, and those who strain to keep their weary eyelids open by a courageous act of sheer will, these earn great respect and appreciation for their efforts. 

In reality, I know that preachers themselves can be the primary cause of “assembly sleep.”  The blame for bland, disjointed, unimaginative, and unenthusiastically delivered sermons lies squarely at our feet. 

Several years ago, I asked some friends how things were going at their congregation and how they were liking their new preacher.  “You mean Reverend Sominex?” they asked.  That was all I needed to know.

I know that I have shortcomings as a proclaimer of the Word, and I constantly seek to become a more effective communicator of the Gospel.  I hope that I will always be able to take constructive criticism and use it for improvement.  But, I sincerely pray that I will never earn the clerical title, Reverend Sominex!

And if you are wondering (and I know you are) about the derivation of somnolence, somnolent, and Sominex, they all come from the Latin word somnus which means “sleep.”  You see, in Roman mythology, Somnus was the personification of sleep, equivalent to Hypnos among the Greeks… Feeling drowsy yet?

I am thankful.

I am thankful for a God and Father who gives me life, loves me, and graciously provides for my every need. 

I am thankful for a Lord and Savior who died for me, forgives my sins by the power of His precious blood, serves as my merciful High Priest, left me an example to follow in His steps, and who has prepared a place for me in His presence for eternity. 

I am thankful for a Holy Spirit who indwells me, strengthens me in my inner being, convicts me, and challenges me to live a life of holiness. 

I am thankful for a source of divine wisdom, instruction, and counsel that was breathed by God, directed by the Spirit, and written by the hands of God’s servants in ages past that I might know Him and His will for my life. 

I am thankful for a wife who has loved me for 23 years, taken my shortcomings in stride, lovingly nurtured and met the needs of our children for 20 years, and has stayed committed to our marriage for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. 

I am thankful for two children who love me unconditionally, have brought me joy from the moment they were born, and have helped me understand just how much our heavenly Father loves His children. 

I am thankful that I had the blessing of growing up in a family with parents who loved one another, loved God, and built their relationship around Him. 

I am thankful that I had the blessing of knowing all four of my grandparents and had the opportunity to witness the place that faith in Christ had in each of their lives. 

I am thankful that I have had the opportunity for my entire adult life to work full-time in the ministry of Christ, in the U.S. and abroad, sharing His message of salvation and encouraging His disciples to grow and mature in their faith. 

I am thankful that Christ added me to His church, a spiritual family in which I can serve, be shepherded, encouraged, and challenged.

I am thankful that I have the blessing of living in a nation that affords its citizens liberty, tranquility of life, and the free exercise of faith. 

I am thankful; very, very thankful!

Since July, the Broken Arrow church has been extremely blessed to have Brandon and Katie Price working with us during the final months of their preparation to join a mission team in Kharkov, Ukraine.  Many of you who read this blog already know them, but, for the benefit of those who don’t, I wanted to take an opportunity to briefly introduce them to you so that you can be praying for them and can come to appreciate them as much as we have over the last few months.

Both Brandon and Katie went through missions training in the Adventures in Missions program at Sunset International Bible Institute in 2001.  Katie did her AIM field work in Mexico City for 14 months,  and Brandon spent two years in Mariupol, Ukraine.  After returning to SIBI in Lubbock, Texas, to finish their degrees, they were married in 2005 and then spent a year together in ’07-’08 working with the church in Mariupol where Brandon had previously served.  Since then, they have worked as trainers with the AIM program and directed an after-school program for underprivileged children in Lubbock. 

Brandon and Katie have made a five-year commitment to make disciples and plant churches in Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine (pop. 1.5 million).  They will be joining a team of three other families who are already on the field.  Like their teammates, they have learned the Russian language in order to better serve and share the Gospel in eastern Ukraine.   

The Broken Arrow church has partnered with Brandon and Katie as the sponsoring congregation for their work in Ukraine and is providing a portion of their financial support.  We invited them to spend six months with us before their departure so that we could get better acquainted, develop relationships, and mutually encourage one another.  I feel that it has been a “mission accomplished” on all of those fronts.  Brandon and Katie immediately immersed themselves in all aspects of the life the congregation: Vacation Bible School, 50 Days of Food and Fun, youth events, fellowship activities, Bible classes, personal Bible studies, teaching, and preaching. 

In a brief period of time, Brandon and Katie have deeply endeared themselves to those in our congregation, both young and old, and they are one of the finest young Christian couples that I have met in a long time.  They genuinely love Jesus and His church and have a passionate heart for missions, especially among the people of Ukraine. 

I know that Brandon and Katie would love to hear from you if you would like to learn more about them and their mission team, if you are interested in becoming a financial partner in their work (either individually or congregationally), and if you would like to support them in prayer over the next five years.

You can contact them through their website at http://brandonandkatie.com

My Dad, Willard Coleman Pyles, about 60 years ago when he first started preaching.

If you have been reading this blog over the course of the last two months, you are aware that my mother passed away on September 16 and that, beginning just two hours after her death, my father suffered a series of near fatal heart attacks (technically, it was takotsubo cardiomyopathy, “broken heart syndrome”).  Of the 62 days that have passed since then, Dad has spent 57 of them either in a hospital or rehabilitation center.  Yesterday afternoon, he transitioned from the hospital back to rehab where he will stay at least another week before being able to return home.

I have spent the last week with Dad.  Among the blessings of our time together has been the opportunity to pray with him several times and to hear his prayers.  It is evident that Dad is coming to a point of emotional acceptance of Mom’s passing, though that realization has been made more difficult for him because of the fact that he was unable to attend her visitation, funeral, and burial two months ago.  He truly rejoices that she has been freed from pain and suffering and has been received into the presence of the Lord.

Dad’s prayers have inspired me and made me even more proud of him than I already was.  He has thanked God for sparing his life and has asked that the Father make clear the path that He wants him to follow in the days that lie ahead.  He wants to serve His Lord and Savior in every way that his health and strength will allow. 

Yesterday, Dad said, “Tim, I just want to use the rest of my time on earth doing as much good for as many people as I possibly can.”  I told him, “That shouldn’t be too difficult for you, Dad.  It seems to me that is exactly what you have been doing your entire life.”

Dad has been preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serving His church for 60 years.  He will celebrate his 78th birthday on December 10.  78 years old!  Abraham was 75 when God called him to leave Haran and embark on a new adventure of faith.  Moses was 80 when the Lord revealed a new plan and purpose for his life.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the journey will be like for another one of God’s great servants.

For the last week I have been with my Dad in Alabama.  His current hospitalization resulted from a fall at his home nearly three weeks ago.  He fractured four ribs, developed double pneumonia, and was diagnosed with an MRSA blood infection.  This has been a major setback in the series of medical hurdles that he has faced since the day Mom passed away on September 16.  He has spent 55 of the last 60 days in hospitals in Cullman and Birmingham and a rehabilitation facility in Hanceville.  He will return to rehab when he is released from the hospital, hopefully in the next day or two.

Yesterday afternoon I left the hospital and went to Mom and Dad’s house for a little while so that Dad could just rest without feeling like he had to carry on a conversation.  Mom has been gone for two months now, but I guess I will always call it “Mom and Dad’s” house.  I got a can of soda from the refrigerator, plopped down in the recliner, and turned on the TV.  I caught the opening ceremonies of a NASCAR race in Phoenix.  There was a stirring instrumental rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and a flyover by fighter jets, which seemed especially appropriate on the Sunday after Veterans Day.  Oh, and there was a prayer!

My credentials as a Son of the South will likely be called into serious question when I admit that I have never attended a NASCAR race or watched more than a few minutes of one on television.  It is not for lack of opportunity.  I spent much of my life within easy driving distance of the sacred racing ground at Talladega and for 12 years I lived in close proximity to Texas Motor Speedway.  Unfortunately, NASCAR’s major events fall on a day of the week that,  for most ministers, has an extremely inflexible schedule.  Thursdays would be much better for me.   

Back to the prayer!  I was impressed by the fact that the race began with an invocation.  Apparently, this is a longstanding NASCAR tradition.  I was even more impressed that the television network chose to include the invocation in its coverage.  They could have come up with all kinds of excuses not to do so.  I’m all for prayer at public events, even if the requests made to the Divine are a little suspect at times.  “Lord, these drivers are about to voluntarily strap themselves into four-wheeled rockets and race around at 200 mph, mere inches from a vast multitude of heavy, flammable vehicles.  All we ask is that You keep them safe.  Thanks in advance for Your help.”  I don’t know why we feel that any endeavor we undertake, no matter how dangerous or foolhardy, should automatically obligate the Almighty to envelope us in protective bubble wrap.

But, that’s not my point.  My point is that at the end of the prayer, tens of thousands of people said, “Amen!”  It was awesome!  As I commented in a post earlier this year (Amen Isn’t A Question), I continue to be amazed at the fact that many Christians audibly affirm their assent to a prayer with an “amen” just about anywhere but a public worship assembly.  They are “all over it” at a family dinner or a meal with friends, a small group Bible study or prayer group, an elders and ministers meeting, a team prayer before a ballgame, NASCAR race, you name it;  just not when they are in a “formal” worship setting with a lot of other Christians.  I just don’t get it. 

A few months ago, I led the invocation at a City Council meeting in Broken Arrow; a chamber-full of “amens” followed the end of the prayer.  A few weeks ago, my fellow-minister Rich Kilmer and I attended the monthly Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce lunch.  Since the BA church is a member of the Chamber and we were sponsors of that month’s lunch, I had the opportunity to share some information about the congregation and its ministries.  I was also asked to lead the invocation and give thanks to the Lord for our meal.  In a room with about 150 people present, my Amen-0-Meter (patent pending) registered a 125.

The next Sunday morning?  Nada!

Please understand that this isn’t something that keeps me awake at night, just a phenomenon that remains an unexplained mystery to me.  I guess I’ll just keep asking until I get some reasonable explanation.  Any suggestions?

“I really hate to ask you this, but could you…?” 

“I’m so sorry to bother you; but, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would you mind…?” 

Call them “qualified questions,”  “reserved requests,” or “asking with an asterisk.”  Whatever you want to call it, I have done it a lot in my life.

I just hate asking for things.  There is probably a psychological term that describes this behavior and the underlying emotions and thought processes, along with various theories as to why it exists among humans.  I would like to think that I hesitate to ask for things out of regard for other people; I really don’t want to be a nuisance or a bother; I don’t want to put anyone out, inconvenience them, make them late, exhaust their energy or resources, or distract them from something more pressing that they need to do.  Yeah, that’s it!  I hesitate to ask because I am such a great guy, such a thoughtful and considerate person!  That would be a wonderful explanation, but I think there is a better and more accurate one: Pride. 

I hate to ask because it is an acknowledgement that I need help, an admission that I don’t have all the answers and resources that I need, and an indication that I can’t do this by myself.  In short, I am human, imperfect, and limited in my abilities, “So, can you help a brother out?”  It takes humility to ask, and sometimes I just don’t have enough of it.

Perhaps that is why God wants us to ask.  From a knowledge and awareness standpoint, He doesn’t need us to do so because our omniscient, loving Father already knows what we need before we ask Him (Matt. 6:8).  But, amazingly, Jesus follows those words in the Sermon on the Mount not with a statement on the pointlessness of petitioning God, but with a lead-in to the Model Prayer.  “God already knows what you need, so….pray in this way…ask like this” (Matt. 6:9-13).  “Ask.. seek… knock…; your Father who is in heaven knows how to give good gifts to His children” (Matthew 7:7-11). 

So, don’t be afraid to ask.  Just humbly let Him know that you need Him and His divine help.  You can’t exhaust His resources; He’s not only “got” time, He rules time; He has unlimited power; you won’t distract Him; He can hear and process millions of requests in a single moment, and does so non-stop every single day.  And He wants us to get specific.  I think that is why Jesus asked a blind man who was crying out for mercy from the Son of David, “What do you want Me do for you?” (Mark 10:51).  “Let me hear your heart, Bartimaeus!  What is it specifically that you desire for Me to do for you?”

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”  (Phil. 4:6).

“You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). 

Proud Tim is still learning that.

Ask your child or grandchild this question:  “When do you think I love you more?  When you are fussing and fighting with your brother or sister, when you talk back and disobey, and when you get into trouble at school?  Or, when you have been keeping your room clean, getting your homework done without being asked, and bringing home good grades?  When do you think I love you the most?”

How would they answer? 

Many of us probably feel quite confident that our children would say, “You love me just the same in all those situations.  I know that you can be upset with me at times and disapprove of my behavior.  You may even punish me sometimes for my actions.  But, I always know that you still love me, even when I disappoint you.  I don’t confuse your approval with your love.  I know that your love for me isn’t conditioned upon my performance, whether good or bad.”  It’s not likely that your 8-year-old would use those exact words, but you get the idea.

We would like to think that we have done a sufficiently effective job of communicating our unconditional love to our children.  Yet, if 20 years of parenting has taught me anything, it is that my perceptions do not always reflect reality, and what I think I have said is often not what was heard.

So, go ahead and ask them the question, and brace yourself for the possible answers.  Regardless of their response, it is a great opportunity to reaffirm your love.  And that is something that simply can’t be done too often.

“Sweetie, I just want you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt…”

“Son, just in case I haven’t told you…”

“God doesn’t love you any more…”

I’m sorry.  I failed to complete that thought.

“God doesn’t love you any more today than He did yesterday, or last week, or last year.” 

I hope that this doesn’t disturb you.  Rather, it should be overwhelmingly comforting and assuring.

One of the aspects of our humanity is potentiality.  We possess a potential for change, the possibility of “becoming” more (or less) than what we are at any given moment. 

When I married Kim, I loved her.  But 22 years later, I can safely say that I love her much more now than I did in 1988.  When my children were born, I immediately loved them.  But Hannah and Coleman are far more dear to me now than they were 20 and 17 years ago, respectively.  My love for each of them has grown and deepened with time.  

I love God far more now than I did when I first accepted His grace through Jesus Christ 38 years ago.

But, God’s love for me hasn’t changed one bit.  He loves me now as He always has, as He always will.  He loves me infinitely.  That will never change.  It can’t change.  With God there is no potentiality, only actuality; perfect, infinite actuality.  God is not “becoming” anything.  God is.        

The nature of the Triune God is eternal.  He is timeless and changeless.  All that God is, He has always been.  All that God is, He will always be.  “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God” (Psalm 90:2).  He is the “I Am” (Exodus 3:14), the One “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). 

God loves us for His Name’s sake, that is, He loves us because of who He is.  It is His nature to love.  It is His essence, substance, and being.  God is love (I John 4: 8,16).  He can’t not love us.  And that love is not conditioned by time or circumstances.  He can be pleased or displeased with us, our actions, and our thoughts, but He will never stop loving us.

Take strength today in the assurance of God’s infinite, unconditional love for you. 

Seriously, He can’t love you more than He already does.  And He cannot love you less.

The 2010 World Series came to a close on Monday evening with the San Francisco Giants achieving victory over the Texas Rangers, winning the best-of-seven series 4-1.  It was the first Major League Baseball championship for the Giants since the relocation of the franchise from New York City to California in 1958.  Despite the loss in the World Series, Rangers’ fans had a lot to celebrate this year, with their team winning a post-season series for the first time, not just once but twice, with a Division Championship Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays and a League Championship Series triumph over their much-despised nemesis, the New York Yankees.  Although loyal, passionate fans like the Bobby Ross, Jr., Family and other friends of mine in Texas and Oklahoma were rooting wildly for the Rangers, I was quietly pulling for the Giants.  Growing up in Kentucky in the 1970s not far from Cincinnati in the era of the Big Red Machine and later living deeper in the Southeast with the Braves being the regional favorite, I’ve just always been a National League guy.  Pitchers should bat.  I’m just sayin’.     

However, it was the Rangers and one of their star players who provided one of the most inspiring and encouraging back-stories this season.  Outfielder Josh Hamilton had a career year in 2010.  He won the American League batting title with a batting average of .359, led all of baseball in Slugging Percentage and On-Base Plus Slugging stats, and was awarded the Most Valuable Player Award in the ALCS.

Josh Hamilton speaks with complete openness about his faith in Jesus Christ and credits his Lord and Savior with giving him strength and perseverance in his battle with drug and alcohol addiction.  When Hamilton has stumbled, as he did in a widely reported 2009 incident in a Tempe, Arizona, nightclub, he has acknowledged his failings with sincerity and humility and has taken full responsibility for his actions.  It has been encouraging to see how the Rangers’ organization and fans have embraced and supported Hamilton.  In one of the classiest moves in the history of sports, Hamilton’s teammates had their initial clubhouse celebrations with ginger ale instead of champagne when they defeated both the Rays and the Yankees.  It was their way of demonstrating their love for their teammate, their respect for his character and faith, and their sensitivity to his struggle with substance abuse.

It would have been easy for the Rangers to have turned their backs on Hamilton in 2009.  They could have walked beside him with an apparently sympathetic arm around his shoulder and, upon reaching the curb, they could have abruptly left him there alone.  Or worse, they could have gone ahead and completely thrown him under the bus.  But, they didn’t.  They continued to believe in him, support him, and provide the kind of framework and family that would best insure his success in the future.  It appears that the Rangers chose well.

It is wonderful that Christians can be inspired and encouraged by examples like Josh Hamilton and the Rangers.  It would be more wonderful if professional athletes were regularly inspired and encouraged by the way churches consistently care for the wounded and struggling among them, whether they be members, leaders, or ministers.

“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble.” (Hebrews 12:12)       

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