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I experienced a reaffirming lesson in positive family dynamics last Sunday…

As church services were about to begin on Sunday morning, my wife Kim received a text message from my sister indicating that my father had fallen at his home in Cullman, Alabama, and had been transported to the hospital with a mild concussion.  Subsequent messages provided further details, and on our drive home from the worship assembly I decided that I needed to travel to Alabama that afternoon.  I knew that if I hit the road by 1:00 I could arrive in Cullman by 11:00, so Kim quickly fixed me a sandwich while I threw a few “necessaries” into a suitcase.

The only hitch was deciding which vehicle to take.  I just assumed that I would drive my car.  It happens to be without air conditioning right now, but I figured that having the windows down while going 70 mph would more than compensate for the 105 degree afternoon temperature.  That’s when our daughter Hannah said, “Dad, please take my car!”  I objected because I knew she was about to leave for Oklahoma City, and I didn’t want her baking in the stifling heat.  “I’ll drive Mom’s car,” she answered.  “But it’s got a headlight out,” I insisted.  (We had just discovered the headlight problem when we pulled into the garage on Saturday).  “No problem,” she said, “I’ll be back long before dark!”  “But you’ll have to drive my car until at least Wednesday,” I responded.  In a mostly reassuring tone, mixed with a hint of exasperation, Hannah said, “Dad, I’m all grown up; I can sweat!”

Problem solved!  I had a safe, uneventful, climate controlled drive to Alabama and was grateful for it!

I sometimes have a tendency to see problems rather than focus on solutions.  It brought me such a reassuring sense of love, support, and connectedness to have Kim and Hannah step up and find a solution that worked for everyone (save some additional perspiration for Hannah) when I simply couldn’t see it.  We pooled our resources and made some adjustments.  That’s what families do!

That’s what spiritual families do, too!

Just like the Jerusalem church (Acts 2, 4, 6) which generously utilized its collective blessings for the meeting of the needs of everyone, local church families are places where challenges can be met and problems can be solved through the mutual sharing of gifts and resources.  Need to sell a tract of land to meet some needs?  Consider it done!  Widows need to be fed?  We’re on it! 

Just two weeks ago, Mike & Karen Baskett, who work with our youth at the Broken Arrow church, insisted that I drive one of their vehicles while they were out-of-town at a camp in New Mexico.  “It’s just going to sit there while we’re gone,” they said.  “Use it!  Enjoy the cold air!”  What a blessing!

Steve Worley, a dear friend and missionary to Nigeria, has no qualms whatsoever about visiting churches when he is in the States and requesting things that are needed for the Lord’s work.  When we served together in Florence, Alabama, if Steve needed a video projector for a presentation or another van for a domestic mission trip, he would simply go to another congregation and say, “You have it and aren’t using it.  I need it.  I’ll bring it back.  If I break it, I’ll fix it.  It all belongs to the Lord anyway.  When can I pick up the keys?”  That’s how it works in families.         

By the way, Dad is much improved and is at home.  It has been a blessing to spend a couple of days with him, despite the emergency circumstances that brought me here unexpectedly.  Kim got the headlight repaired on Tuesday.  All is well! 

I’m hitting the road at dark-thirty today and am hoping to arrive in Tulsa by mid-afternoon so I can shift gears, freshen up, and make it to a speaking appointment in Stillwater tonight.  God is good!

The name of D.T. Miles is probably as unfamiliar to you as it was to me prior to last week.  Ms. Miles is credited with originating the concept of Vacation Bible School in Hopedale, Illinois, in 1894.  Miles, who was both a Sunday School teacher and a public school teacher, started a daily Bible school for children during the summer months.  Her first effort in 1894 lasted four weeks, and classes were held at a nearby school.  An “Everyday Bible School” was organized four years later at New York City’s Epiphany Baptist Church by Eliza Hawes.  The “EBS” was primarily developed for underprivileged children and was conducted at a rented beer parlor.  In 1922, Dr. Robert Boville of the Baptist Mission Society founded the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible School.  In 1923, Standard Publishing began printing VBS curricula, with enough lessons for five weeks and written on three different age levels: kindergarten, primary, and junior.

Those first efforts, dating back 117 years, have resulted in a ministry approach utilized by churches all over the world each year.  Did you notice that the earliest catalysts of the concept in the 1890s were women?  To this day, Vacation Bible Schools could not happen and would not happen if it were not for the dedication, creativity, energy, and talents of godly Christian women who love children and love teaching them about the love of God and the story of Jesus.  Yes, I know that men are frequently involved as well, and for that I am very grateful.  But I guarantee you that VBS would not exist if it were just up to us guys!  Not to mention that the kids would only eat Oreos at snack time rather than delicious home-baked goodies. 

So, thank you, ladies, for the beautiful sets you construct, the creative crafts you develop, the Bible stories you teach, the songs you sing, the patience you demonstrate, the cookies you bake, and the young hearts and lives that you touch with the love of Jesus!

Painting by Yvonne Ayoub

Kim and I continue to enjoy our efforts in micro-gardening with three raised garden beds in our backyard.  We harvested a beautiful crop of Yukon Gold potatoes last month.  We are cutting okra every day now, and the pepper plants have done fairly well.  However, not everything has gone according to our hopes and plans.  The tomatoes have been hit and miss, with some plants bearing quite well, and others being completely barren.  There were blooms aplenty, but comparatively little to show for it.  While the green okra has been very productive, that hasn’t been the case with the red variety.  Same with the cucumbers; a sea of yellow blooms, but very few cukes.  How can you manage not to grow buckets full of cucumbers?  They usually grow like grass, right?  I am continuing to learn that vegetable gardening is not a no-brainer avocation.

Despite my lack of understanding as to why some of the plants have not produced, I have resorted to drastic measures nonetheless.  Those that just won’t bear fruit have been yanked up by the roots and cast aside.  They were just taking up space, pointlessly soaking up water and nutrients from the soil.  There is still enough growing season left to give some new plants a chance.

My foray into gardening has reminded me of a consistent theme that runs through the teaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles of the Lord.  A true heart of faith in God is always evidenced by a life of holiness, both in word and deed.  Otherwise, we have quenched and denied the power of the Spirit who lives within us. 

“Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). 

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:19-20). 

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). 

“A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.  And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any.  Cut it down!  Why does it even use up the ground?’  And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). 

“The fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9).

I am currently reading Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath (Thomas Nelson, 2006).  I will probably share a blog post or two after completing the book, but I am already finding its contents to be extremely challenging and enlightening.  Buchanan calls us to greater attentiveness to God and the things of Spirit in the midst of a culture, sometimes even a religious one, in which “busyness is a fetish,” stillness is considered laziness, and rest is viewed as sloth.

One of the serendipitous jewels that I encountered early in the book was Buchanan’s hypothetical consideration of how a modern publisher might have responded to Solomon after receiving a draft submission of the book of Proverbs.  After commending Solomon for his “gems of insight” and his ability to cover diverse topics with great brevity, the publisher writes:

“But I need to be frank with you, Sol: this is an editorial nightmare.  It is all over the place.  One minute you’re talking about nattering wives, the next about kings’ hearts, and then suddenly you’re on about table manners, lazy people, poor men, whatever.  You repeat yourself in many places, contradict yourself in others.  I’m intrigued but confused.  I wish you would take one theme per chapter and develop it fully.”

The imaginary publisher also suggests that Solomon consider a title change from The Proverbs to something catchier like Zingers: One-Liners to Delight Your Friends and Humiliate Your Enemies.

Buchanan has Solomon respond to the publisher’s request for a “thesis statement” for his manuscript with a quote lifted from the book itself (14:8): “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.”

Buchanan’s immediate point is that we need to wisely “give thought to our ways” rather than travel life’s pathway in foolish disregard of where we are heading.  But, in making this point so cleverly and creatively, Buchanan also succeeded in reminding me of just how abundantly evident it is that Scripture is the result of the mind of God and the working of the Holy Spirit rather than the will and the words of man.

Man would have never put Scripture together like God did; and I am eternally grateful for that. 

I wanted to share a couple of anecdotes today as a brief follow-up to last week’s post about the use of acronyms, abbreviations, initialisms, and other sacred “shorthand” in our congregational communications.  While such insider, Christian code language makes perfect sense to us and can be quite a beneficial time-saver in our writing and speaking, it often serves to leave non-members in the dark and feeling like they are indeed on the outside looking in. 

The following illustrates just how easily this can happen.  It also illustrates just how dense and off-base I can be at times.

In the summer of 1988, Kim and I spent a lot of time in the evenings watching television coverage of the Olympic Games from Seoul, South Korea.  We only had a tiny, black-and-white TV, but the Games were thrilling nonetheless.  As is generally the case, marketers and merchandisers were taking full advantage of promotional gimmicks that were connected to the U.S. Olympic effort.  There was lots of red, white, and blue in advertisements and frequent references to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and USOC (United States Olympic Committee).

However, there was a marquee sign in front of fast food restaurant that puzzled me.  I drove past it several times over the course of a couple of weeks before I finally mentioned to Kim one evening that I couldn’t figure out what this “IOPC Dinner” was.  I was working off of the IOC and USOC models and just couldn’t make sense of it.  A few days later, Kim and I were in the car together and I said, “Look!  There it is!  I don’t understand what that is.”  Kim said, “You mean 10 Piece Dinner?”  Suddenly, everything was crystal clear.  It was a “1” rather than an “I” and the number “o” instead of a capital  “o.”  And, upon closer examination, there was a slight space between those numbers and the letters “PC.”  By the way, it was a KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken)!  I should have known, right?”

I heard a radio report awhile back about a hospice care worker who was in the habit of continuing to send periodic “thinking of you” cards to families in the months following the loss of a loved one.  This thoughtful lady was quite new to the unique brand of shorthand that had arisen in the use of email, texting, Facebook, and Twitter.  She had frequently seen “LOL” but never bothered to ask anyone what it stood for.  She just assumed (nicely, but wrongly) that it meant “lots of love.”  At the end of extremely kind and compassionate hand-written notes to people still coping with the death of a family member, she would write “LOL” and sign her name.  You can imagine her shock and embarrassment when a somewhat offended (but very understanding) individual gently pointed out to her that it meant “laugh out loud.”

The one that drives me crazy is BOGO, short for Buy One, Get One.  But, that’s not even what the promotion is.  What they mean is Buy One, Get One Free.  It should be BOGOF if they’re going to abbreviate it.  BOGO makes absolutely no sense as an incentive.  If I buy one, I generally get one.  That’s the usual deal.  But, they’re wanting to tell me that if I pay for one, I’ll get another one at no additional charge.  If they’re going to drop the “Free” from the abbreviation, it should be BOGT: Buy One, Get Two!  Now, that’s an incentive! 

Okay, I’m done! 

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July 2011