I enjoy watching the bowl games at this time of year.  Young men on their way up in the world of football.  They’re playing to win a game, but they also know the eyes of scouts are on them.  The pros are watching.  Their future could be hanging on a great performance.

This football season was the first for my young grandson.  It was fun to watch him, to wonder if he’ll play in high school, or in college.  It was fun to watch his transformation, suddenly wanting to “muscle up,” and becoming much more conscious of “team.”

But I think the most joy this football season has brought me has been watching my grandson’s mother (my daughter) go through her own transformation.  This was the woman who a year ago might have said, “Ewww, don’t touch that bug, it’s nasty.”  Or, “Look how dirty you are.  Get in there and clean up, young man.”  She certainly said, “You be nice!”

This woman paced the sidelines after the first game or two, and yelled things like, “Hit him!  Don’t let him knock you down!  Move your feet!  Block him out!”   She would deny it under oath, but I swear I heard her say, “You better hurt that boy!”

Now I know she didn’t want her son to be violent.  And she knows nothing about football.  But after she began learning a little, she at least realized this:  If her son just stands there, he’s going to get his head knocked off.  And he’s going to let the team down.  So he must be aggressive.  He must be strong.  And he must understand the objective of the opponent, and stop him.

It’s a good object lesson for Christians.   So many of us are just standing around, posing.  We look like players, but we’re really just wearing the clothes and looking pretty.  Meanwhile, the enemy is charging over the line, wreaking havoc on our teammates.   Our kids are still getting messed up with drugs.  They’re still falling to the immorality of the age.  Our politicians continue to pass regulation that favors the anti-god crowd.  Schools have gone completely anti-religion.  And we’re posing.  

We need to get mean. We need to be violent.  In the sense that the verse says, “The kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  When Paul wrote, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand,” he was letting us know that we have all the equipment we need to win.  We just need to put it on and get in the game.  And get violent.

At about five this morning, the day after Christmas, one of the best men I’ve ever known slipped away. He was my high school drafting teacher, a principled man who loved his students more than any teacher I’ve ever seen. He had a good Christmas, surrounded by his grandkids and great-grandkids, his lovely wife Evelyn, and his son Chris, who shared him patiently with all his students. And then this morning he quietly left.

Several years ago his wife invited me to emcee his 80th birthday party. Dave Tanner, an outstanding entertainer out of Dallas performed, several students spoke, and I did my thing, and told a few stories of Mister Gregory. I never felt right calling him Fred, although I tried it a time or two.

I had a Teacher Appreciation Day at my church honoring teachers of all kinds. I invited Mr. Gregory to be my guest speaker. He was a prince. He was humble to a fault, and I think he was surprised that so many of his former students considered him their best teacher ever.

One high school competition trip required us to travel about 60 miles to the event. On our return trip Mr. Gregory stopped to let us eat a hamburger in some small town. When we left and were safely away, one of the boys in the back seat pulled out a salt shaker he had taken from the table of the little diner. Mr. Gregory eased his Rambler station wagon over on the shoulder, looked back in the mirror, and we all tensed, sensing his disapproval and disappointment. Without saying a word, he made a u-turn, and we drove all the way back to the little town in silence.

When he pulled back in the parking lot, he looked over the seat and told the boy to get out and take the shaker back in and give it to the manager. He watched to make sure he did. He never condemned him. Never said one unkind word. When we were back on the road, he started making jokes like nothing had ever happened. He made sure to include the thief in the casual banter.

He knew we would be a little late now, with parents waiting and wondering where we were. (We didn’t have cell phones in those days). Just before we arrived, he slowed down and told all of us that it was wrong to take what didn’t belong to us. But he didn’t want to hear another word about it. And no one needed to tell why we were late. He kept the boy’s privacy, but he made sure we knew the high value he placed on honesty.

He helped me prepare for my first job interviews at engineering companies, and he was as proud as any father would be when I landed my first part-time job drawing floor plans for a consulting firm. He coached me on how to get raises, and how to continue to improve my skills and my job performance.

He was so much more than a teacher. He was a life coach, a mentor, a friend.

Last week I was writing a booklet to give to my grandkids as a Christmas gift, “Grandpa’s stories of life, laughter, and love.” Scanning through old stories I had written, I found a newspaper article I had published about the incident above. I had an impulse to phone Mr. Gregory just to say Merry Christmas, but I was running late, and laid aside his number, meaning to do it another day. I wish I had listened to the impulse.

Rest well, Mr. Gregory.

NBC is already coming out with a special show called “The Secret Life of Tiger Woods.”  Two or three of the women with whom Tiger was intimate are already on “news” shows giving interviews.  And they sound so innocent.  Not evil and nasty like him.  Not secretive or seductive.  Just sweet women minding their own business until Tiger swooped down and fooled them into having a relationship.  Do I sound cynical?

Our obsession with gossip is troubling.  We almost seem to think we have a “right” to know the sordid details of anyone’s private affairs.   “They’re in the public eye,” one commentator justified, “and that gives the public the right to know.”  We don’t think or care about the other lives affected by our pursuit of the latest, dirtiest tidbit.  Standing in line at a grocery store scanning the covers of the magazines (“We’re the First to Break the Story of…”) reminds me that gossip is a business.  A high-dollar business.

The biblical command to forgive is complicated by the daily deluge of dirt.  The admonition to pray for those who have fallen, or to “go to your brother” if you see him at fault don’t even enter our thinking when it comes to “public” figures.

Perhaps a fallen public figure gives us a sense of betterment.   Perhaps our own “private sins” are perceived as not quite as bad as theirs.  So we feel better about ourselves.  Because we’re “not as bad.”   But if the same scrutiny placed on the private lives of the rich and famous was placed on us, who could stand?  If you had all your phone records revealed, and all your internet site visits revealed, and all your angry comments made public, and all your private conversations displayed, how would you come across to strangers?  Would they disdain you?  Would they understand that none of that stuff was “the real you”?

Why does our opinion about another person’s failings matter?  Who cares what we, or any celebrity, “thinks” about another’s fall?  An interviewer asked a celebrity, “What do you think Tiger was thinking?”   I just sat shaking my head.  Who knows? Who cares?

I pray for Tiger’s wife and children.  His family suffers, probably for a lifetime.  They will never be allowed to live a “normal” life.  I pray for the women he used, and who used him.  They are not innocent either.  But they have families.  Whether they have pride in their seduction, or shame, is not the point.  They are affected, and they affect all of us in some way.  We become jaded.  We expect less and less of those held up in esteem.  We trust no one.

I pray for Tiger himself.  He may have been surprised to discover what money and fame could buy.  He may have lacked maturity to understand the consequences of his actions. He may have lacked a moral compass. I don’t know.  I just know he still needs to find forgiveness.  He still needs to find direction for the rest of his life.  He is human, after all.  Whatever you would need if your sins found you out, he needs, too.

It may surprise a handful of Christians that the Bible warns, “he that utters a slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18).  “Slander” is the Hebrew dibbah translated “evil report, defamation, whispering.”   I can’t be responsible for the programming of television shows.  But I can choose what I watch.   I choose not to watch the “evil report, defamation, whispering” of those who feed on gossip.  They are fools.

I watched my former pastor’s daughter at her son’s funeral 24 years ago, and I wondered how she would ever be “normal” again.  Her only son, a senior at UT, shot down by a 17-year-old who had bummed a ride from him.  A beautiful life ended in a moment of evil.  How would she ever smile again?  What would she dream about?

Her story is remarkable, and a brief glimpse of it is in December’s issue of Good Housekeeping, page 174.  She took a long time to lose her hatred of the young man who killed her son, but she did.  She found forgiveness.  She was able to forgive him.  Not that he asked for it.  She just gave it.  In her words, she “started seeing him as a human being and not just a murderer.”

I read a piece somewhere once that went like this:   A man saw a monster approaching through the mists, and he raised his gun to fire.  But as he drew nearer, he saw that it was a man, not a monster, and lowered his gun. But then he thought, What kind of man would be out here in this mist, so he raised his gun again. But as he drew close enough that the mists no longer obscured the face, he saw that it was his brother, and lowered his gun to embrace him.

You get the idea behind it.  I wonder how many people we have hated, or judged cruelly, because we saw them as monsters instead of as brothers?  If we could just get closer… dispel the mists… perhaps we’d have more brothers than enemies.

Thomas Ann Hines stopped seeing a monster, and saw a boy.  And forgave him.  And in doing so, she grew immensely into the image of the One who taught us, “If you forgive men, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”  The same One who looked down from a cross and said of those who put Him there, “Father, forgive them.”

Thanks to Thomas Ann, and others like her who have found the sweet release that only forgiveness can bring, we are challenged to let go of our grudges and end our quests for revenge.  Their message is simple: Get close enough to your enemy, and you may find a friend.  Your act of forgiveness will open heaven’s door for you.   Lay down the gun.  Open your arms.  Forgiveness heals everyone.

Danny Carpenter, Grace Christian Family Center

Christmas may be called "Holiday" these days, but it doesn’t change the fact that Christians know what this time of year is really all about. We may stand in lines and buy the latest product for our kids, but we never forget that this season is a special time to remember the birth of a Savior.

While some Christian groups advocate boycotting stores which don’t use the word Christmas, and some simply advocate not shopping at all, you find yourself walking a tightrope sometimes trying to please your family, your church, yourself, your God, and your radical friends. As if you didn’t already have enough stress at Christmas.

But whether you buy or don’t buy, or whether you shop certain stores or shun them, is really not going to change the world. How we share Christ, not just at Christmas, but as a part of our daily routine, is of much greater importance.

So enjoy Christmas however you choose.  Buy, or don’t.  Put up a tree, or don’t.  Turn on lights, or enjoy the dark. Light a candle. Or not. But whatever you do, remember WHO this season is all about. He’s the One you live for the other 11 months of the year, too.

HE is not likely to be glorified by any of our doctrinal or seasonal debates over the holiday. HE is not likely to gain any foothold in the world because we do or don’t have a nativity scene. But He WILL be affected and glorified by our worship of Him, and by our willingness to share Him with others.

I went into a store the other day that’s on the "hit list" as a store to be avoided because it isn’t using the word "Christmas" in its advertising. I made a small purchase, and to the clerk who rang up my sale, I whispered, "Merry Christmas. May the Lord bless you today." She laughed because she understood the implication of my exaggerated whisper. "Merry Christmas to you," she called back merrily. "You don’t have to whisper it in this store. The corporate powers can take the word out of our advertising, but we still know what it’s about."

Good for her. And good for all the other employees out there who know, in spite of how their companies choose to advertise. The whole world knows what this season is all about.

So light another light at Christmas. BE one of His lights.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Danny Carpenter,  Grace Christian Family Center

Silly as a gooseThis is the time of year they are flying.  We were standing on a tee box last Sunday afternoon, and could hear them honking, high in the sky, their erratic V-formation painted on a blue autumn sky.  When you contemplate their magnificence, you wonder why anyone ever came up with the phrase “as silly as a goose.”

For one, the V formation is critical to their migration.  Instinctively they fly this way.  Like some inner voice lines them up. They cannot know that flying in such a way enables them to fly 71% farther and longer than if they flew solo. Each bird creates an uplift that buoys the birds behind.  I wonder how many of us recognize the value of belonging to a church?  I wonder how many people have hung on a little longer, flown a little further than they might have, simply because they were buoyed on by the faith, love, and strength of those friends at their church?

Secondly, there is that honking.  Do you know why they honk?  We may never know for sure, since we can’t talk to the geese, but the best experts seem to believe that it is simply a means of letting the ones in front know that they are still back there.  It’s like they’re encouraging them on.  Think about it. The front goose could fly a hundred miles alone, no one behind him.  But when he hears the honking, he knows he’s not alone.  And in some way, he may be encouraged to fly on.   A well-placed “Amen!” means a lot to a preacher.  And a well-placed “Attaboy!” means a lot to anyone!  We get that at church, don’t we?  “Hang in there!”  “Keep the faith.”  “We love you.”  “We’re praying.”

Thirdly, the leader is not the only leader.  Remember, the point goose doesn’t have the benefit of the uplift from another. He’s in the front.  So he tires much sooner than others.  And when he does, he simply slides out and relocates back down the line, and another slides up to the lead.   There are no “big I’s” and “little you’s” in church.  Look around at how many “leaders” simply step up and do what needs to be done.  No one leader is so critical to the direction of the flock that when he is tired, another cannot step up and lead for a while.  This constant support and encouragement is what makes the Christian church unique.

And finally, when one goose falls out of the flock because he is sick or wounded, he never goes down alone. Two other geese will peel out of the flock and go down with him. And they’ll stay with him until he is well enough to fly on, or until he dies.  And then they’ll either join another flock until they can break off and reach their own migratory route, or they’ll be a flock of three until they arrive at their destination. I think it was Madeleine Murray O’Hair who said the Christian army is the only army in the world which kills off its wounded.  What did she know?  The Christian “army” doesn’t kill its wounded. Much like the geese, it surrounds its wounded with love, forgiveness, and hope.  Oh, there are those on the fringe who are hateful or spiteful, as in any group.  But by and large, Christians stay beside those who are suffering and hurting in life. Like our Lord who promised He would never leave us or forsake us.  We restore. We heal. Because we are surrounded by His love revealed through the love of others.

I love being part of the Christian community.  And the next time someone accuses me of being as silly as a goose, I’m going to take it as a compliment.

Watch this sermon online

I heard it twice from the same woman in a mall store:  “Thank God!”

She wasn’t actually thanking Him, though.  She was telling her girlfriend how lucky she was they had the pants she wanted in her size. “Thank God!  I’ll look so hot in these at Thanksgiving!”

I smiled all the way up to the food court. I could just imagine her family gathering at Thanksgiving next week, and all her relatives slipping by her whispering, “Girl, you look so hot in those pants.”

Right.  Well, thank God.

It got me thinking about how many phrases we throw out that once had religious meaning, and now are pretty much meaningless.

  • “Thank God.”
  • “Jesus.”
  • “Jesus Christ.”
  • “Dear God.”
  • “Mother of God.”
  • “Holy Christ.”
  • “Holy… anything.”
  • “God bless.”
  • “God in heaven.”
  • “Good God.”
  • “Mercy.”
  • “Hell.”

And that’s just a start.  Think of how many times you’ve heard those phrases used as nothing but swear words.

Well, Thanksgiving, the holiday, is right around the corner. Wouldn’t it be nice to be truly thankful?  Not just to celebrate a holiday, and be glad for a day off from work, but to be genuinely thankful for whatever blessings you’ve found in life.

Are you healthy?  Are you healthier than others?

Are you employed?  Are you financially secure?  Can you at least make it through a few more months?  Are you married?  Is your spouse decent?  Are you free from abuse?  Have you conquered an addiction?  Do your kids love you?  Do you have a friendship with God?  Do you enjoy your church?  Do you enjoy some family time?  Do you have good friends?

Something is right in your life!  Maybe it’s not perfect, and maybe it’s not the way you wish it was.  But there is much right in it.

Be thankful for that.

Really thankful.

“Thank God!”

What does God look like?“You don’t look like your dad!”  I’ve heard that at a family reunion many years ago.  I never knew if they were suggesting something.

But I’d hate to hear this: “He doesn’t look like his Father.”  Notice the capital “F.”  I mean the “heavenly Father.”

Did you know that all of us, regardless of our race, size, age, sex, hair, skills, etc., are “made in the image and likeness of God”?    Look at yourself in mirror, and whisper: “I bear a strong resemblance to God!”

You do.  You are made in His image.  You reflect His glory, just as the moon reflects the glory of the sun. It has no light in itself, but how gorgeous it is when when it is bathed in the light of the sun!

You will live forever, just like God.  And you have the power to give life, and to take it away.

You’re awesome.   But with awesome power comes awesome responsibility.

Some of you have been on naval vessels, and some have been on beautiful cruise ships.  Those magnificent, huge pieces of floating steel are turned by a comparatively small blade called the rudder.  That small thing can be turned too quickly, or too far, and instead of the massive ship sliding smoothly up to the edge of a pier, it can crash broadside and destroy itself or its mooring.

And the Bible compares the tongue to the rudder of a ship.  Translation:  that small tongue can destroy a beautiful life, or it can steer a life over a successful voyage.

What power we god-like creatures have!  With our tongues we can discourage, dishonor, lie, undermine, publish filth, mock, ridicule, exagerate error… literally destroy a beautiful person who was made in the image of God.

Or, with the same tongue, we can praise, encourage, forgive, set free, let off the hook, admire, compliment, embrace, love… and guide a person made in the image of God into the greatness he/she is capable of.

We have that much power!  Because we, too, are made in God’s image and likeness.

The best way to resemble your Father is to show the same kind of forgiveness and love toward others that He has shown toward you.  Were you forgiven much? Then forgive much.  Do you have secrets He helped you hide?  Then help others hide theirs.

Be like God.

You were made to be. Don’t waste His great plan.

For those of you who were unable to attend this year’s Fun Fall Festival, we were fortunate enough to have captured the final performance of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (in high-definition). Catch the video below: