Thursday, December 25, 2008

A New Face In Heaven

This picture was taken back in the Summer at the Curtis family reunion. Dean was able to joke about his cemo treatment by saying that he hadn't had to shave in six weeks - because of losing all his hair. Dean took his last breath in this life this morning and took his next breath looking at the face of God. I have said many times over the last thirty-six years that I had the best in-laws a person could hope for. Dean probably is one of the biggest reasons I'm such an avid hunter today. I really began my serious hunting by tagging alone with him and Randy on many rabbit hunting trips, back when Dean had 10 or 12 beagles to chase them around for us. It took me a long time to get the hang of how to know where the rabbits would be in relation to the dogs who were chasing them. He loved to hunt and he especially loved helping others have a good hunting experience. Those early years of hunting will always be special memories for me.
Dean was one of the most humble and godly men I have ever known. He was the consummate quiet servant, helping hundreds of people in hundreds of ways and mostly without anyone else ever knowing about it. He loved simplicity, hard work, his family, and his church family. He was a man of integrity. I know there were plenty of times when he and Gleneve wondered what in the world their first son-in-law was doing, but they would choke to death before they ever did anything to criticise or be negative to any of us. Their example of love, sacrifice, service, and hospitality are unmatched by anyone I've ever known. I am thankful for every memory I have of time we spent together and for the godly daughter he raised who has made such a difference in my life. I am truly looking forward to seeing him again - and I will. I just hope there's rabbit hunting in heaven.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Still A Wonderful Time of the Year!

This is the cast from Donna's Children's Christmas musical - December 14th. They did an awesome job.

I've been trying to figure out why I haven't really felt much like it was Christmas yet. We've been busy, but that's typical. The weather has been a mess - much colder than any Missouri Decembers we've had since arriving four years ago, and it has kept me from getting to hunt as much as I would have liked. All our shopping is done and we are excited about what we have prepared for all our loved ones, and that's definitely Christmas-like. I think it's because we haven't decorated any at our house. No one is coming here - we're going to Nashville next week, so it was hard to find the motivation to dig everything out of the packed basement store room and put it up. As usual, our neighbor across the street has such an incredible light display that our house shines at night like a spotlight was on it. Why try to match that? I'm sure the biggest reason is that we both are so concerned about Donna's Dad. Dean is clearly in his last hours in this life, and while we praise God for where he's going, the sadness and empty feeling is already there - as much for her Mom as her Dad. We may have to reschedule our already rescheduled Christmas plans, and that's no problem. Still, I know that when we get to be with family, the warmth and love that we share all the time, will make it special, and will make it Christmas - whenever it happens. Right now we're busy doing our usual church stuff, trying to get things done early, and we're enjoying our church family, because we love them dearly. We're also praying a lot, but that's always a good thing. I hope all your Christmas plans go well and you get to be with those you love the most. God is good.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Machines Are Coming!

I've shared this picture before, but I use it again because it speaks of my feels towards modern technology - occasionally. Our home computer has been out all week after a short power outage or surge last Sunday night. It caused our cable Internet connection to - evidently - fry. The cable fixer-upper was scheduled for Thursday between 1 and 3 in the afternoon - BUT - they would call twice prior to that, and if no one answered the phone the repair visit would be automatically cancelled. So, how soon before the 1 o'clock time would they call? And why schedule a time to be home for the repair, if you have to be there to cover the phone? Well, no big deal. I came home for lunch and they called while I was finishing off my microwaved soup. Then I thought, I can still use Word on the computer even if the Internet is down! DUH! I did - working on the final scene of next years play. BUT - I could not make that thing save the file to the same CD I brought in home on! Long minutes where spent trying to figure out how to do it. I couldn't even find the crazy program that I know we have that lets us burn CD's. Oh well, after it was fixed, much later, I sent myself an email with the doc. as an attachment so I could pull it up at the office and save what I had done. See, I have learned something.
The cable man did his thing - put a new cable box on our machine and it worked like a charm. It seemed good to me (sounds biblical doesn't it?) to ask, "Hey, while you're here. Can you change out our DVR? It's really been acting up lately and I thinks it's bout to go out." He was more than happy to do that. Nice guy! BUT - I forgot how EVERY cable fixer-upper has a terrible time trying to figure out how to hook things up to our TV. It took him much longer than he had planned. I almost invited him to stay for a microwaved soup dinner. He finally got it up and running and the new DVR is great. I just had to program all the shows I usually have recorded into the new box - Jeopardy was first. BUT - I noticed that the wide screen picture had three inch black borders top and bottom - like watching a movie, except it was regular TV programs. Ha-ha! This happened before and I knew I could figure it out. Wrong. Two hours of reading every word on every page of our giant TV manual and pushing every button on everything and even a few things that weren't buttons - no luck. What was wrong with our crazy TV? Exhausted and frustrated, I picked up the control to the cable box and began scrolling through some of it's index of capabilities. One said Wide Screen Set Up. I clicked on Extended Wide Screen and presto - I had a full wide screen. Who knew it was a cable thing and not a TV thing?
Okay - there's a great lesson there somewhere, but it took too long to tell the story. So come up with your own. For now 1) I'm a techo-idiot; 2) User-friendly is a relative concept (my relatives can do it but I can't); and 3) Maybe machines will one day take over the world - they certainly know how to push my buttons.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Are Some People So Happy?

My good friend Bob Nash has got one of the greatest smiles in all the world!

For some reason, this morning I was reflecting on the reasons why some people are so unhappy. Why are so many folks perpetually unhappy, sad, discontented, or just plan miserable? Why do so many teenagers bounce in and out of contentment and seem to be manic-depressive as an age group? I remember being that way - especially in my mid-teens. So, okay, I'll quit asking about everyone else and just get a little personal here. When I've been unhappy, why did I feel that way? I say "when" because it doesn't happen much at that point in my life. I know a little more about peace, contentment, and priorities now than I have in the past. So, I get to reflect and ask why. When I do that, I find everything boils down to the same reason - every time.

Here is what I wrote down on a piece of paper this morning. It's on a sticky-note, and yes, it will probably be something that will show up in a sermon in the near future.

You are only as happy as your ability to think about others rather than yourself.

I truly believe that the most miserable people in the world are the people who spend most of their time thinking about themselves. So now you know why teenagers are so miserable so much of the time. The more you focus on yourself, the more you feed the need for attention, for approval, for things that feel good, for things that will build your ego, and the more you resent anything or anyone that competes with any or all of these things. If we don't learn the lesson of unselfishness as teenagers, which most of us don't, we tend to struggle with the chase for happiness for a lot of years, and in the meantime, we can lose friends, destroy marriages, alienate loved ones, and postpone seeking God.

There is a reason why Paul connected godliness with contentment. Godliness (God-like-ness) is love or thinking of others! Contentment is finally finding happiness.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hear No Evil

In working on this coming Sunday's lesson, the first line I wrote down for the introduction was "What are some things that you just don't want to hear about?" So - here are my "gut reactions" to that question. I can't call them a "Top Ten" because I haven't thought it through that well. They're just the first things I thought of and they're in no particular order. And yes, these will appear again on Sunday morning.

Things you just don't want to hear about.

1. Who's gay - especially when it comes to celebrities. I'd rather not know.

2. Government corruption - just arrest 'em and quit talking about 'em!

3. Reality TV - mostly junk, mostly contrived, and always confrontational. Don't need that. Give me pure escapism or something that will add to my meager storehouse of knowledge.

4. Digital TV! Is there anyone in the whole wide world who doesn't know about the change yet?

5. Tax Increases! Just do it and don't tell me about it.

6. Rosie O'Donnell's new conflict, new career, new anything.

7. Religious legalism - I want to hear about Christ-like churches

8. Racism - of any kind or form. Ignorance and hate needs light and silence.

9. Front yard deer sighting - everybody has one to share with hunters

10. A group of middle aged men sitting around singing "Viva Viagra" - PLEASE!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's Just A Fly

If a bug comes into my house and I see it, its short life just got a little shorter. I especially don't like flies in my house. I have had some extensive hunts, with the fly swatter in hand, that went from one end of the house to the other - several times, before I dispatched the buzzing trespassers. That's why it struck me as odd that I viewed the dead fly on my upstairs bathroom windowsill with such poignancy. If I had seen him when he was alive and flying around, I would have instantly transformed into hunter mode. But looking at the dead fly, at the highest part of the house, lying dead just on the wrong side of the window of freedom - well, it just struck me as sad. He slipped into the house through a quickly opened door because his instincts told him there was food to be had if he could just get into that giant storehouse. All he found was imprisonment, hopelessness, and death.
Okay, maybe he was incapable of being depressed, feeling hopeless, and even regretting his mistake. Maybe he was just being led by his instincts. Still, the analogy is appropriate for us. How many of us chase after something that will never satisfy, fulfill, or sustain us? How many people fly into the open door of easy opportunities and sensual possibilities only to find a new prison, and for some, death? Isn't that letting our instincts lead and control us? Satan loves to use our desires as leashes to lead us where he wants us to go. Maybe the real difference between us and the house fly is that our ability to think is used to rationalize our actions rather than keeping us from flying into something that can destroy us.
I probably won't ever us this as a sermon illustration, but I kind of like the idea that even a dead fly can make me think. That doesn't mean I'm throwing away my fly swatter.

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Reason To Fight

Religiously speaking, we like to think that we are doctrinally right - about everything. The TRUTH is that we are all wrong! Otherwise how can it be that "no one is righteous" and "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"? You might counter that knowing what's right and doing what's right are two different things. True, but just knowing what's right is not the same as understanding God! We are all in a sad state of error, inadequate understanding, and pitiful connection with God. There is no sadder evidence of our poor understanding of God than our woefully poor understanding of His grace. We can quote the verses, but then we still believe we must earn our salvation. We "Amen" sermons on grace and still "hope we are going to heaven." We believe we have it and still judge others, compare ourselves to others, and seek the affirmation of others. We say we are drawing closer to Him and yet we still feel unforgiven, unworthy, and insecure in our relationship with Him. Our definition of grace is a cliche' and our walk with Him is a constant struggle rather than being overwhelmed by His love for us - that fills us with love, joy, peace, and all the other "natural" heart-level responses that take place when we "get" what His grace really means!
Last Sunday I offered this premise: Our willingness to fight & sacrifice is directly related to the VALUE we give to what we are fighting for. This was to help us understand why Paul told Timothy, and us, to "fight the good fight of faith." If there is no clear sense of value - there is no willingness to fight. His point, which is incredibly important, is that grace gives us the clear sense of value! "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Paul points out that this happened to him "the worst of sinners," declaring that he was "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man" yet he "was shown mercy". So Timothy, how can I not fight the good fight of faith! How about you?(1 Tim.2:12-20)
You see, if we don't understand how amazing His grace is - we lose the value behind the fight! Maybe, no - not maybe, this is why we find it so hard to fight the good fight of faith. It's impossible to really understand His grace and not be motivated to truly be a "living sacrifice" to him.
His love = grace = value = faithfulness! We need to stop thinking of faithfulness as "doing what's right" and start thinking of it as responding to grace!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Quick Trip To Arkansas

We made a very quick trip to Searcy (left Monday morning, returned Tuesday evening) to see Jonathan and Holly, whom we haven't seen since this time last December, and to spend a little time with Donna's parents. Monday night we had a diner at Carol's house (Donna's sister) with several of the nieces, nephews, cousins of, spouses of, and one boy friend of, and shared some grilled elk, venison, and chicken - along with some required fillers of course. It was so much fun to see this group together. Some of these relatives haven't seen each other for a lot of years. We decided that Jonathan and Zach, hadn't been together since the famous WV Christmas of '95. For some, it was the first time to meet the spouses of their cousins, and/or boy friend. What a great group of young men and women! They all have such a wonderful, sweet, and kind spirit. Not only was there a lot of grilled consumption, but a huge amount of laughter.
As mentioned, it was so nice to see our son Jonathan and his wife Holly. She was at Harding to teach a class and speak for a special dinner. Jonathan came along for the ride and we are so glad he did. They look great! It was hard to believe that it has been a year since we got to talk face-to-face. They are both doing so well in their careers and are now part of a church planting in Brooklyn. I hate that they're going to have to miss Christmas with us again, but such is the life of a Broadway actor, and will probably be true for many years to come. We really are going to figure out a way to visit them in New York sometime this winter or spring. We are very thankful to just get to see them for a few hours and hug them for real and not just in thoughts. God is good to allow us whatever time we get to have with the ones we love.
Speaking of which, please keep Donna's folks in your prayers. Dean is very weak, and unable to even get out of bed for more than just seconds. It was heart warming to see the stream of friends and family coming by to see him and express their love and respect for him. As we left, I held his hand, looked into his eyes and said, "I will see you." Because of God's grace, I believe that with all my heart.