My eldest cousin, Rosie Carpenter, passed away. As we visited with old relatives and friends, it was refreshing to recall old memories. Or not.
“Remember when you…” a story would begin, and then, straining to remember, struggling to find a sliver of that story stuck somewhere in a back room of my mind, alas, I could not. “Are you sure I was there?” I found myself wanting to ask numerous times.
The funeral home should win an award for the way they prepared Rosie. She was absolutely beautiful! They took her back 20 years! Standing at the casket, looking down at her beautiful face, a few memories did come back.
I was just a boy when she married my cousin, Dale. He was 10 years older than I, tall, handsome, quiet, and good-natured. I thought of him as the quiet gentleman my mom always wanted me to be. And Rosie? Well, Rosie was beautiful and hot! I was only 9 or so when she married Dale, but I was old enough to know hot! And she was.
My brother and sisters would go to Houston and spend a few days with Dale and Rosie (they were old enough), and they’d come back with photos of water skiing trips and trips to the beach, and Rosie was tanned and… did I mention, hot?
But, of course, we all age, and she became mom to two great boys, then grandmother, and great-grandmother. Banker, tax clerk, Sunday School teacher, bass player… she was quite a talented and gifted lady.
And looking at her this weekend I realized how much is really lost when someone of age dies. A generation of memories goes drifting by, and we hardly pause to notice.
Who’ll be here to tell the tales in a few years? No one. And that’s the sad part.
My brother and sister and I took a few minutes to run by the nursing home before we went to the funeral home. We visited with our mother for a few minutes as she hunched over a plate of food, not really knowing what to do with it. She moved food carefully with her fork from the plate to a cup, then back again. She put together one or two sentences, but they went no where. Just a blank stare from a mind that has lost all memory. She reminds me that there are worse ways to lose memories than by dying.
Still, as my wife and I passed through Kaufman on our way back home to Houston, I said, “I wish I had listened to more details from my mom when she told me about her family coming to Kaufman, riding in a wagon, to buy groceries and supplies, and to church.”
But I didn’t listen well, and there’s no one to tell the stories now.

“Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen.” Those are the words of the prophet Zechariah, written to foretell a dark time coming to Israel. While the prophecy has nothing to do with our loss of a great man today, the phrase is gripping. If the mighty cedar is fallen, what hope is there for the lesser fir?
Indeed, the mighty cedar has fallen. V.E. “Buddy” Hall passed away this morning. Last week his wife fell and broke her nose, and this week he had to have a cath and other tests in preparation for a liver transplant, and in spite of a rough week, he wanted to be at church this morning. Church was in his blood.
“Heart’s good,” the doctors had said after the cath. Yes, as good a heart as I’ve ever known. If you ever needed a picture of the Christian man, you could just look at one of Buddy. A model in every way: an excellent husband, father, grandfather, brother, employer, church member, and friend.
In our church’s early years, he was the benevolence program. I could appeal to the church for benevolent help for some hurting families, and quietly Buddy would come afterward and say, “Let me know what else is needed,” and then, whatever else was needed, he would help.
In 35 years, never a cross word, never a criticism of anyone else, never a judgment, never a complaint. Just a strong man who lived with a strong discipline and dedication to God. There is a reason a plaque hangs by the door of our church’s fellowship hall naming it “The Buddy Hall.” He was our cedar.
And now, the cedar is fallen. We firs are trembling.
Our feet will travel the path of the cedar, in time, and we can only hope that in our day we can have the courage, the character, the conviction of the cedar, Buddy Hall.

The church was robbed.  It’s the third time in a couple of years or so.  It wasn’t bad this time.  They just stole underground copper wiring, about $3,800 worth.  We lost the use of our youth building for a week.  We’ll replace it this week, and move on.

It gives you pause, wondering what kind of person steals from a church.  I guess it shouldn’t be any different than stealing from an individual, but it seems worse, somehow.  Churches aren’t rich. They spend everything they bring in.  Our small church has only around 200 people coming to it, and we gave over $23,000 last year in benevolent gifts.  Throw in another $10,000 for missions and volunteer staff food and gifts, and we look pretty generous.  We give. It’s the heart of a church.

So to be robbed seems such an unnecessary violation.  The thieves would have to take the copper to a reclamation site, and that business would know that they didn’t come by that copper wire honestly, so they would only offer them pennies on the dollar.  They might have made $300!  Who knows?  I guess for 20 minutes’ work, that’s not bad.  But if they had just come to the church and told us they were destitute, they might have gotten more than that, and they wouldn’t have had to steal it.

I mused about such things last week, and then chuckled to God about the nature of a thief.  I sensed God whispering back to me, with a smile, “Nothing to do but forgive and move on.  I do it all the time.”

“You do?”  I was genuinely incredulous.

“Sure.  Folks rob me every week.”

I should have seen that one coming.  But I bit. “Seriously?”

And then I turned the pages and read the account again.  “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.”  It’s in the Old Testament book of Malachi, 3rd chapter, verses 8 and 9.

Well, some folks were pretty high and mighty about what they’d do to those thieves if they caught them. “Low-life punks!” snarled one.  “I’d like to get my hands on them,” growled another.  I sure hope they’re contributing to their church.  It would seem pretty hypocritical if they’re not.

But then I thought, wait! We’re not under the Old Testament Mosaic law.  So is anyone really robbing God that way these days?  And, of course, Paul’s words came ringing:  ” The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).  And there it is, plain as day!  God loves a giver.  Oh, yes, it says “cheerful” giver.  But you can’t miss the “giver” part of it.  Makes you wonder what He thinks about non-givers, doesn’t it?

At any rate, the church was robbed this week.  I hope it was only copper wire that was stolen.  But you never know.  There’s all kinds of thieves.

I never thought I’d say this, but I was a little sorry to see the Christmas tree come down.  That single act seems to signify that Christmas is officially over.  It’s time to get back to work, move on.  But this Christmas was warm and comfortable, and I hate to see it go.

For the last four years or so, my family has opted out of the exchanging of presents.  That’s harder than you might think, especially when you have grandkids. We have chosen instead to take a trip, to do something that hopefully creates a memory that might last a lifetime.

We’ve been skiing a few times in New Mexico, and, indeed, still talk about the awesome snow storms, the dog that we thought was a wolf, the frozen water pipes that forced us to change rooms in the middle of the night, and every other unique event.  And we’ve loved every memory.

This year we took a trip to Grapevine, a little town which bills itself as “the Christmas Capital of Texas.”  It was a good trip. The town has a great light show around a gazebo right in town, and a great little historic cabin and courtyard all decorated in a way that provides hundreds of photo ops.

Then we spent a day at the Gaylord Texan’s Ice show.  It, too, gave us some great photo spots, and it is quite a spectacular achievement.  Thank goodness they provide you with parkas to wear in the 12 degree rooms.  The final scene,  lifesize ice sculptures of the nativity scene, is unbelievably beautiful!

The third day we packed up and drove to east Texas to another hotel.  We uncrated a PA system and rehearsed a little “show” of Christmas carols and other songs which we were going to perform at the nursing home where my mom resides.  This would be our first “working” Christmas Eve.  No cozy gathering at home. No sitting around the Christmas tree and enjoying family games.  Just singing to a bunch of people who may or may not know you’re there.

My mother has Alzheimers.  Her memory lasts about a minute, and sometimes not that long.  I have to remind her who I am, and in that moment her face brightens and she is excited.  Then, a minute later she will ask me who I am.  So we put on our little show knowing that my mother would not even remember we were there by the time we drove out of the parking lot.

I was a little reluctant to even suggest this kind of Christmas to my family.  I don’t know why.  They jumped on the idea so quickly, I was caught without a real plan.   We mentioned it to a few people, and got some ideas.  Judy Kingan made us a pile of cookies, and the staff who had to work on Christmas Eve had wolfed down half of them before we left.  The grandkids made a card for all 102 residents in the home, and handed one to each resident who came to our little show.

My granddaughter plays guitar and sings in our church youth band, but my grandson doesn’t put himself behind a microphone.  Yet at the nursing home, he grabbed a mike and stepped out front and sang every song!   My mother sat near us, and I was doubtful that she actually remembered who we were.  But during one song she motioned one of my sons-in-law over to her, and he leaned down and heard her say proudly, “That’s my son up there.” Amazing that she remembered.

After our little show, everyone had to be wheeled back to their rooms.  It was 6:50, past bedtime for most of them.  Mom stayed and visited with us for another 30 minutes.   Of course, we had to keep introducing ourselves.  But she was in fine form, and funny as ever.  I was glad my grandkids got to see just a glimpse of the woman she used to be.

“How long have you had that cough?” I asked after a spasm of coughing hit her.   “Well,” she grinned, “at least for two or three minutes.”   Well said from a woman who apparently knows she has a memory problem.

It’s funny how the memory works in someone who has lost it.  She still remembers clearly that she has four children, and can remember all our names.  Yet doesn’t realize that the one sitting beside her is one of those kids.  And yet, when she speaks of them, she says, “I had four children, you know.  And they loved me.  They were always so good to me.”   I am grateful that her memory recalls us that way.

She said to my daughter, “There are days that I just want to quit.  I don’t know why I’m still here.  And then, someone will come by and visit, or just say the right thing to me, and I want to live again. I want to go on.  You know, I just think God puts some people here just for that, just to keep us going.”   Maybe that’s why she’s still here.  She gives me inspiration.

Late Christmas Eve we’re trying to find anything open in a small Texas town, and we find a not-so-clean fried chicken joint.  And a convenience store for those who didn’t want fried chicken.  And we carried our treasure back to our tiny hotel room and feasted and played games and talked and cried.  And expressed our thanks to each other and to God.

I don’t even have words to express my personal thanks and love to my kids and grandkids for being the troupers that they are, and for genuinely giving up Christmas as usual.  We found Christmas extraordinaire!  And I hate to see it go.

The people of Oklahoma tried to get an amendment to their constitution that would guarantee that Sharia law could never be used to overrule their own laws. In some circles, they have been ridiculed for wanting such a law. A judge has done what seems to be an increasingly popular thing in American politics: he has overruled the vote of the people and declared such a law unconstitutional.
But Oklahoma is not alone in its fear about the growing demand by many Muslims in America who for some reason seem to think that they should be allowed to rule their communities by their own laws. The Muslim communities in America are becoming more adept at using the media to spread their cause. And some are even appealing to the neighborhoods where new mosques are being built with marketing that would look just like that of a new church in the neighborhood, and even claiming to have a “faith in Christ.”
I was shown an ad for such a mosque in Spring, TX, and the advertising appeal included the line: “Get all your questions answered: Status of women in Islam, Jihaad, what do we believe in, and our faith in Jesus!” Sounds like a new Christian church! But it isn’t. It’s a mosque, and no matter how many clever ways they may advertise, they simply do not accept that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, our Savior. They acknowledge His existence, they speak of him as a great prophet, but they think that His disciples hid His body, and therefore there was no resurrection.
If naive Americans would watch what happens in the countries that are governed by Muslims, they might get a better sense of what’s intended. The latest example might be that of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was condemned to death in Pakistan because it was alleged by a co-laborer in the fields in which she works that she spoke out against the prophet Mohammed.
She appealed her case to President Asif Zardari, and a government minister looked into her case and said there was no evidence that she had blasphemed the prophet. It looked like she might get off in an appeal. But the Lahore High Court, perhaps fearing the president may pardon her, passed resolution preventing the president from interfering in “the commandments of Islam.”
Last Friday, the cleric of a mosque in Peshawar, Maulan Yousef Qureshi, held a rally and told his crowd, “Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees as a reward from” his mosque. Since there is a possibility this woman could win her case in appeal, this decades-long religious leader wants to be sure his people know that he will not allow the courts to let her live. “We expect her to be hanged,” he said, “and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”
I hope the judges in Oklahoma read international newspapers.

Families which try to stay close to each other usually do so by having annual or bi-annual reunions. My dad’s family has tried to gather annually ever since I can remember. Recently we’ve tried to have two reunions, one in the summer and one around Christmas. This year we moved the Christmas one to Thanksgiving.
My gracious nephew, Dr. Cary, and his wife Lorrie, invited the whole clan into their home. Some got hotels, some found niches for air mattresses. They have 40 acres, and we used it! We abused their barn, their four-wheelers and tractors, and every other toy we could find. But in their graciousness, they acted like they thoroughly enjoyed the chaos.
That’s the way it always is. No matter which relative opens his house, there is absolute chaos, and absolute joy. We are glad to be family, and glad to be keeping the tradition alive with the youngsters, letting them meet cousins and other kin they’d never meet without the reunions.
I remember the first year after my dad passed away. I didn’t want to go to a reunion. It seemed wrong, somehow, for us to gather and not have Dad there, because he loved reunions like no one else. But then we thought that it would be wrong not to gather, so we did so in his honor.
This year our Mom was absent. No, she’s not dead. She has simply lost her memory. It rattles her to be away from her little corner of the world. She doesn’t know where she is, and she doesn’t know who we are, and we do her a disservice to take her out of her environment. So we left her in her home. She would not make the long drive well, and she might not ever return mentally to her safe cocoon.
We didn’t speak of it. Not in public, anyway. But it was on our minds. When it came time for the big meal, and my nephew was about to pray, I thanked him and Lorrie on behalf of the family for their hospitality. And I thought about saying something about “Nanny’s great big, wonderful family.” That’s the way she has fondly described us for years. But I hesitated. It would have caused a gush of tears. And my nephew struggled to get through his prayer without cracking as it was, so it was good I didn’t open the door.
It was in all our minds anyway. It didn’t need a public reminder. We looked around that room and silently, in the midst of our joy, there was this hint of sadness at who was NOT there. Even when we speak of next summer’s plans for a family reunion, we know that they will not include Mom. She may be with us still, but she isn’t here.
Each year the absence of one reminds us that we are all fading. One day it will be us who is missing from the reunion. I don’t want to sound morose. I just want to celebrate the here and now. Today, I am here. I will rejoice!

Christians ought to see the handwriting on the wall with President Obama’s appointment today of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. She is the first gay nominee to the Supreme Court.

The highest court in the land which deals with the interpretation of the most extreme laws that govern us all will now have (when she is confirmed) a gay person deciding the course all Americans will take. Among the critical laws facing Christians in particular are freedom of speech laws versus the new Hate Crimes law, same-sex marriage, transgender rights which apparently can trample on the rights of non-transgendered people, and gays in the military.

Is the deck stacked against traditional Christian interpretation of the Bible? I think so. I shared a video recently in which President Obama referred to the “Holy Koran” several times, and always with utmost respect. But when he referred to Christianity he did so with a touch of mockery, and asked, Which version of Christianity should we choose? The James Dobson kind, or the Al Sharpton kind?

He even referred to the Old Testament with mockery, citing loosely passages from Leviticus, references to the Law of Moses, laws which no Christian lives under or practices. But that didn’t seem to matter to the Commander in Chief. And now comes the inclusion of a lesbian on the Supreme Court, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Christians in America still recognize homosexuality as a sexual choice, and as such, a sin. Romans 1, I Corinthians 6, and I Timothy 1 are not Old Testament verses. They don’t come from Moses’ law. They come from the New Testament, and they are unmistakably, unequivocally against homosexuality. That’s not “hate speech.” It’s simple preaching about what is declared moral and immoral by God in the Christian era. It’s in the same sentence with adultery, and fornication, and stealing, all things we “choose” to do, and all sin.

But in today’s hubbub of applause, what we’ll hear is simply that one more woman has been appointed, making this president the most “woman friendly” president ever. No, he’s the most anti-Christian president ever. From his first act as President, sending American tax dollars to other countries to fund their abortion clinics, in spite of our own financial crisis, to today’s act of appointing a gay woman to the Supreme Court, a woman who has never even been a judge, it is clear that the agenda of this president does not reflect my Christian values.

God help the American Christian in the future.

Dale McAlpine, a 42-year old preacher who has preached in Wokington, Cumbria for years, was arrested April 20 for violating the Public Order Act. His crime? He was preaching on a street corner and named several sins, including drunkeness and adultery. A passerby asked him if he believed homosexuality was a sin, too. He told her he believed it was. A homosexual Police Community Support Officer approached the woman, then approached the minister and told him a charge had been made that he preached against homosexuality. The PCSO identified himself to the minister as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender laison for the police, and the minister said, “It’s still a sin.” Shortly thereafter three uniformed policemen arrived and arrested the minister.
We preachers have been trying to scream for a few years that the Hate Crimes bill was unnecessary, since laws against every crime in it are already in force, and we’ve tried to show what the true nature of the bill is. It is a restriction of free speech. It is intended to ultimately silence moral preaching.
Only the courageous will be able to take a stand for strong moral writing or preaching. And as Europe goes, so goes America. Now that we see what the Public Order Act is accomplishing in Scotland, we see what is coming for the Hate Crimes law in America.
This is not the first time the Public Orders Act has been used to silence Christians. In 2002, a pensioner named Harry Hammond was holding up a sign that read “Stop Immorality. Stop homosexuality. Stop Lesbianism. Jesus is Lord.” He was arrested. As was Stephen Green, a Christian campaigner. He was handing out leaflets at a Gay Pride festival in Cardiff in 2006.
Hang on, America. It’s just a matter of time until your preachers, too, will be arrested if they dare quote scriptures that offend homosexuals. So far, no adulterers, murderers, fornicators, liars, thieves, haters, schemers, or other sinners have protested preachers’ rights to preach from the scriptures that identify their sin. Only homosexuals.

She never saw the truck coming, didn’t have time to brace for impact. In an instant she was blasted across the console of our brand new Toyota Celica, her head knocking out the passenger side window. The truck had run a red light and broadsided her. Witnesses rushed to her side and helped her. In minutes an ambulance took her to Baylor Hospital.

I was working several miles away when the company phone rang. A coworker offered me a ride to the hospital. When I arrived an hour after the accident, doctors were still digging out glass from her head and ear. She was a bloody mess. But there was a worse problem: she was seven months pregnant with our first child!
After a couple of hours waiting, one of the doctors came out and summoned me for a private meeting. “Your wife is extremely shaken,” he said, “but she should recover okay. Our real concern now is for the baby. We can’t find a heartbeat.”

“What does that mean?” I stumbled, not knowing the right questions to ask.

“It’s not uncommon,” he comforted. “Sometimes in a shock like this a baby’s heartbeat may be dramatically subdued. But usually, by now…”. He hesitated.

They kept her for observation, and I prayed long into the night that tomorrow they’d tell us the baby’s heart was beating and everything was going to be fine. But instead when I went to pick her up and take her home, the doctor told me to take her to our pediatrician right away.

After long scrutiny the pediatrician prepared us for the worst. He was holding out hope the heartbeat would return. But we should come back to him in two days. We did. Still no heartbeat. He prepared us kindly. The baby would be stillborn.

We should keep a bag packed and be ready to respond immediately at the first sign of labor. My wife’s body would naturally reject the baby, and the baby’s lifeless body would be expelled.
We continued to return to the pediatrician every few days. He was surprised that after two weeks of no heartbeat we had not had to make that emergency trip. Then it was three weeks. Then four.
The pain of losing our firstborn had weighed enormously on us. After four weeks I saw that one of my friends was preaching at a hotel in north Dallas, and I asked my wife if she wanted to go hear him. Just an excuse to get out of the house. I was surprised that she did.

When the service was over, we were among the first to slip out, hurrying through the foyer to get back home, back to bed, back to waiting. As we crossed the mezzanine, a familiar voice called out, “Danny boy!”

It was my childhood pastor, Rev. Paul Hosch. He summoned us over, smiled down at my wife’s tummy, and said, “I like to pray for all the girls in my church when they’re pregnant. I know you’re not in my church, but I just feel like I ought to pray for you. Do you mind?”
We didn’t, of course, and right there in the foyer of the hotel he prayed that my wife and baby would have a perfect birth. He didn’t know the situation. We had not been in touch with him for a long time.
We got in the car, swallowed up in our loneliness. “It was sweet of him to pray,” my wife said, looking out the side window as tears fell.

We dressed for bed. She was exhausted from her first time out of bed in a month. We hoped she hadn’t overdone it. I checked to see that the packed suitcase was still in its place.

Around two in the morning I was awakened by my wife’s screaming. Instinctively I jumped from the bed and began to pull on my clothes. She was saying, “No, no, no!” I was saying, “It’s alright. It’s okay. You’re gonna be fine!” I was dressed before I realized she was telling me to stop dressing. She was crying, but she was laughing.

“Feel!” she yelled. I saw that her hand was rubbing her tummy. I put mine there, and for the first time in four weeks, our firstborn was kicking.

A few weeks later, both mom and baby had a perfect birth!