February 28, 2011

Hidden Pictures.

It used to be a Sunday morning ritual. I would go out to get the paper, and promptly look at three sections: Sports, Dear Abby, and the Sunday Comics. I never outgrew the Sunday comics. It just seems that the best way to start your day is with a laugh. I did this for years, right up until they started publishing those “hidden picture” puzzles.

You see, there was (is?) this thing in the comics where you are supposed to look at this series of dots and squiggly lines and see a hidden picture. The directions tell you to put the picture to your nose, slowly move it away from your face, and Eureka…you will see the hidden picture! The problem is that I have yet to see anything except dots and squiggly lines.

There were times in department stores when my friends and I would walk up on one of these works of "trainwreck art." After sharing that I can't see anything, they would say, "you mean you don't see that dinosaur eating the Buick LeSabre?!?!" And I’d just stand there feeling like a third grader trying to do Chinese arithmetic.

I was recently encouraged to find out that some people can see these images and others cannot. It has to do with their eyesight development. So it's not my fault that I cannot see the hidden picture, my eyes just aren't developed for it…and that’s my parent’s fault, right?. . .

. . . My frustration when trying to see the hidden pictures has made me a more understanding Bible teacher. I realize the angst and aggravation involves in not seeing things the way others do. There are things in the Bible that seem as clear as a Time magazine photo, and nearly everyone gets it. Yet, there are some things in there that are like the hidden picture; some folks see them and others do not.

If I have just described you, here's some advice. Don't allow your frustration to rob you of your joy in God's word. . . just wait for God to develop you. Don't give up trying to see the unseen, it's worth the effort. And just because something is unclear doesn't mean that it's too "deep" for you. . . it may just be "muddy. No matter what, don't give up!

February 22, 2011


Several years ago, during a VBS planning session (We call VBS, Summer Jam...I guess to confuse the masses), I began to realize how much VBS has changed. One thing that caught my attention was VBS snacks. Nowadays, VBS snacks are veggie heavy, with a touch of high fiber sweets, all to be washed down the assorted juices. YUCK!

After the meeting, I made mention to the person in charge of goodies that I'm not sure you can have VBS without Kool-Aid and sugar cookies. I went on to declare my abiding love for Kool-Aid and the red mustache created by my favorite flavor...cherry!

Her response was one of a true Christian servant..."I promise that you'll get your Kool-Aid." And she was as good as her word. The first evening of the event, she told me that she had a special pitcher for me in the back refrigerator. Sure enough, I had my own special supply of Kool-Aid...AND IT WAS CHERRY, JUST AS GOD INTENDED!

When word got out about my "secret stash," someone inquired as to why I thought I was so special...why should Average Joe have a special drink stash??? As I listened to them, all I could think of is "its only pennies a glass...1/3 the sugar of regular soda." Really dude, its just Kool-Aid, not personal access to the Holy Grail!

The best part of the conversation was right at the end when they said (really they said this), "I'm not sure if I want to be around a religious leaders who drinks Kool-Aid...are you going to expect us to drink the Kool-Aid too?"

It took me a minute, but I understood the question. "Drinking the Kool-Aid" is a reference to a tragedy where followers of a religious leader drank poison laced Kool-Aid. It has become synonymous with the idea of people blindly following a leader.

I'm pretty sure the final Kool-Aid comment was made in jest. But every time I remember it, I have to wonder.

And then I ponder the thought, "is there any Kool-Aid worth drinking?" In other words, are there hills worth dying for that should be accepted by faith? After all, aren't we expected to walk by faith and not sight?

I know that Jim Jones' followers were acting foolishly. But how about Jesus' followers? Must we understand every nuance of evangelism in order to tell our friends about the Savior? Should we thoroughly disect grace vs. works before being willing to accept God's forgiveness? The list of these types of questions is endless.

So, you tell me, is there any "Kool-Aid" worth drinking?

February 18, 2011


Friendship is the last fleeting sign of childhood dreams. It is the final symptom of youthfulness that lingers around the shadows of our adult minds.

It reminds us of chosen love. Chosen love is unlike family love in that families love one another out of acceptance. Friends, on the other hand, choose one another. This kind of love develops like barnacles on a ship; slowly over the course of time. It emerges without warning. There is no date of establishment to be remembered or celebrated. Most friendships have no real reference point as to the time or date when an acquaintance graduated into a friend. Love and loyalty are the diplomas awarded on such auspicious occasions.

Friendship is real and it is powerful. It is idealistic and capable of dreaming the biggest of dreams. It is iridescent enough to shine through the fog of an aloof world that has somehow forgotten the value of friendships and no longer values love and loyalty.

Average people rarely encounter a real friendship in the course of a lifetime. All to often, people travel through this life having made only acquaintances. One reason for this is that most people today are far too selfish to be a friend. You see, friendship is like riding in a Greyhound bus. In order to allow others on the bus, we must be willing to scoot over and sacrifice our own comforts as well as rearrange our perspectives. We must be willing to not only accommodate our friends, put their baggage as well.

Real Christian friendships require work. Citizenship in God's kingdom is not a simple matter of birthright. It is advanced citizenship. You have to want it bad and be willing to work and suffer for it. You must be willing to struggle with others and forgive them. You have to be willing to look past their imperfections and occasionally see them as they can be and not as they are.

The church is commanded by the Hebrew writer to assemble itself together. A more vivid translation of this might say that we are to join our lives together. This kind of communion in God's family cannot be achieved by mere acquaintances.

Real friendships glorify God. Being involved in real friendship is a Christian's destiny. We are told that the world will know that we belong to Jesus, the lover of the unlovable, by the way we create bonds with one another. So let's work on being loyal. Let's make it our business to overlook faults. And together, let's dream big dreams and teach the world about Jesus by our friendships with one another.

February 16, 2011

When You See One...

About a month ago, my son and daughter wanted to take me to lunch. I'm sure that every parent reading this knows that "take me to lunch" really means "come get us, take us to the restaurant, and by the way, yes, you are paying for this."

My son picked an Asian place. It is one of those places where you are always required to wait an extended period of time (to build culinary excitement), herded in with strangers (privacy is overrated anyway), asked to sit in a semi circle just wide enough that you can't really see or hear your friends (because you know them too well as it is), and are expected to be an audience for a chef who will prepare your meal with amazing flair (if you haven't seen the same show 50 times already).

The first 30 minutes of this visit went just like all the rest...we waited for a table. As usual, we were herded in with strangers. Once again, forced to sit in a semi circle. The waiter came in and took our orders and turned on the large metal grill, where our meal would be cooked.

After that, the "Asian Experience" took a woefully wrong turn.

As we sat awaiting our drinks, we were treated to a show unlike any we had seen in that restaurant before. As the grill heated up, for our culinary amazement, a cockroach came out from under the grill and began to scurry all over the metal surface looking for a cool spot...to no avail. As entertaining as this was, nobody at the table decided to stay for the chef's encore. We all stood simultaneously and left the premises.

On the way out the door, my son looked at me and said, "I just learned in school that when you see just one cockroach, you can be sure there are more than 500 nearby that you can't see."...

...Recently, my son's "cockroach theory" has caused me to ponder some things. What if the "cockroach theory" applies to other things? For example: What if when you caught a friend in a lie, there are really 500 lies leading up to that "one" lie, and you were totally unaware of these lies until it was too late? Absurd, I know, but are you following my train of thought?

The last couple of days have caused me to take stock of myself and my ministry. Some recent statements, which were made innocently, have caused me to think that maybe I'm not very good at what I do. In essence, I'm "Below Average Joe." I spent yesterday pondering my situation, and quite honestly, the jury is still out.

I can't swear that the "cockroach theory" applies in this case. But if it does here's the hard part...regardless of whether they are right or wrong, are there 500 more people nearby who feel the same way? After all, the "cockroach theory" states that when you see one, there are 500 nearby that you cannot see.

So what if you are in the same boat? "Cockroach theory" or not, whether it has been by one or 500, you have been discouraged. My only advice comes from Peter's recounting of the actions of the Savior..."When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23)

In all honesty, I know no other way to handle the discouragement brought on by others...intentionally or otherwise.

February 14, 2011

Best/Worst Teachers

I have been fortunate to have some very wonderful teachers. In second grade, I was blessed to have a teacher by the name of Jacqueline Grey. During the height of desegregation, she was the first African-American teacher to teach in a “white” school in our city.

First grade was tough for me. My teacher, whom I won’t name, was incredibly unpleasant! (I used to tell my buddies that she was a Nazi fleeing prosecution for war crimes) But, Miss Grey made second grade fun and changed my entire attitude about how fun learning really is.

Truth is, however, that the teachers who have encouraged me to be more than I had ever imagined are few and far between. I recall Chris Sanders, my high school chemistry teacher who spent more time teaching us how to think rather than what to think. I remember Marie Roberts, my high school speech teacher who encouraged me to take drama in spite of my speech difficulties (I used to stutter), and then cast me in the lead of the school play. There’s even a football coach who comes to mind, Terry Hemontolor, who tutored me in algebra and made me fall in love with math. Lastly, Floyd Parker, who opened my eyes and created in me a new love for seeking depth in the Word of God.

I have also had some really terrible teachers. A history teaher, who came into the room the very first day of class, turned out all of the lights, stood on his desk with a flashlight in his mouth, and began turning around and around in circles. After this he jumped off of the desk and asked, "What am I?" (An idiot) The answer: a lighthouse. He then walked out the door and that was the end of class!

I also had a teacher in Grad School who began every by class changing the assignments and how to turn them in to him. At one point he wanted them e-mailed to him. Next class, he wanted them e-mailed to all of our fellow students as well as him. Then he wanted them e-mailed to him, then copied and sent by priority mail to him as well. Why?

The common thread between all of my favorite teachers seems to be a love for students, real knowledge of their subject, and a consistency in their expectations. The common thread among my poor teachers is a selfish attitude and a tendency to grandstand.

When I think of Jesus as the Master Teacher, I am reminded of my favorite teachers. He came to serve, not to be served. He diverted His student's attention to the glory of the Father and accepted no glory of His own. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. How's that for consistency? He became a man, just like us. How's that for knowing His subject? His humility, insight, and expectations do not change and His love for His students will never die.

So if you are looking for direction, insight, and discipline for your life, look to the teacher who has the qualities that mark all great teachers. Jesus truly was/is the Master Teacher!

February 9, 2011

A Criminal's Tale

Torture. That's what it was, torture. Had I known that I'd have been caught, I would have never done the crime. But I did do it, and now I was having to pay.

I was laid on a wooden cross. Seven inch spikes were driven into my hands and the pain was unbearable. By the time they had finished attaching my feet to the cross, I was in such pain that my animal instincts had taken over.

I wanted to destroy everything that I saw and curse everyone who watched. Knowing that I was certainly going to die, I no longer cared. After all, there had never been a "crucifixion survivor" and they couldn't kill me twice. For an hour I screamed accusations and obscenities that ordinarily would have never crossed my lips.

Then I noticed the One next to me. From what was being shouted at Him, I knew who He was and why He was there. You see, although I had never met Him, I had heard of Him. He claimed to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Sure didn't look like much of a Savior to me. Guess those Jews and Romans didn't buy it either.

The other convict and I started to hurl insults at Him. Why not? He claimed to be the Christ. . . how about doing some of that "Messiah stuff' and getting us outta here?

But then I noticed something different about Him. When they nailed Him to the cross, He didn't even wince. When they cursed His name, He prayed for them in return. When we, being in the same predicament, ridiculed His claims, He said nothing.

How could He do it? I was out of my mind in agony wanting to fight the whole world! How could He be so calm? Then it occurred to me that He just might be who He said He was. . . the Messiah! Who else could endure the finality of death with such repose? Who else would love His accusers, and die for those who would kill Him?

The moment that this thought rushed through my mind, I felt a calm that I have never experienced. I scolded the other convict, telling him of the Nazarene's innocence. How dare him speak this way to God's Son! Who did these onlookers think they were? We deserved this. . . He didn't. My mind screamed out, "stop it, He is the Promised One!"

But they wouldn't stop the ridicule and insults. So I made a desperate move. I asked a Savior whom I had just met for something that I didn't deserve. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

I didn't expect a response at this point. It was hard enough to breathe, much less talk. But He did respond. "Today you shall be with Me in paradise."

Undeserved grace. That's the only kind of grace there is! Dying alone was more than I could bear, but dying with Him was a privilege...

...Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)