May 21, 2013
It has been way too long since I have written here. But this morning, as I think and pray about the devastation that has hit Oklahoma… It is only appropriate to post. Yet, what can I say? As a former Oklahoman (I spent my Freshman & Sophomore years of high school, and my first two college Summer Breaks, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma) this tragedy that has struck, particularly hard on the town of Moore, OK, is heartbreaking. The videos of the Category 4 tornado (that may yet still be upgraded to Cat 5) that ripped through the town, the hospital, and the elementary school seems surreal. It brings back to memory all the tornado drills we went through as students – events I must confess I never took too seriously, though clearly I should have. So I write, but what can I say?
There are many reporting and commenting on this disaster. But two have struck me as offering especially proper perspective and prayer:
Sam Storms, a pastor from Oklahoma City, whom I have never met, but whom I truly appreciate, offers the simple yet importantly profound perspective, in a post he titled: Tornadoes, Tsunamis, and the Mystery of Suffering & Sovereignty. Storms begins his post hesitantly and with seeming resignation:
I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort.
But then he thoughtfully posits a handful of truths essential for us all to build a foundation capable to sustain us through such tragedies – be they our own, or vicarious ones, such as this event is for the most of us.
Mike Milton, former Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, and a man I am thankful to know and appreciate, composed a prayer – a prayer I find worthy to be shared by the many who, like me, may not be able to find the words from within ourselves that we would like to offer to God and on behalf of those effected: A Prayer for the Disaster in Oklahoma
March 29, 2013
I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the Cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of this world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from the thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered into our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.
~ John Stott
March 29, 2013
March 27, 2013
by Randy Hicks
Not many years ago it was unutterable, except perhaps as a schoolyard can-you-top-this, or as urban legend. Yet it is one of the most sensational issues of our time, and an almost-impossible topic to avoid. And, from what I’m hearing, it’s not always easy for people like you and me to articulate the reasons we oppose it. It’s called “same-sex marriage.”
“I know why same-sex marriage is wrong,” I often hear, “but I’m not sure how to articulate its dangers.” Christian friends are looking for a way to relate to those who may not hold the same views, and that’s wise.
To be clear, our religious beliefs do offer legitimate reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. But if we’re to win this important debate and win hearts and minds, we must be able to articulate our convictions in culturally relevant ways.
I’ve had the opportunity to take this debate into the university setting many times, this is what I hear from aggressive proponents of gay marriage:
• They’ve argued that denying them marriage is denying them the ability to have a loving commitment with another person. Frankly, that’s just not true. People love others and commit to others all the time—we just don’t always call it “marriage.”
March 23, 2013
NCAA D-III Athletics is not for those who cannot cut it at a higher level, it is for those who can cut on several levels – playing fields, classroom, and life.
As a father of two sons playing D-III football, I have come to really appreciate what D-III has to offer. And having myself been a D-1 athlete for four years during my college days has provided me a pretty good perspective. And it is not what most seem to think.
It seems most assume that those who choose to participate in D-III sports are those who lacked the ability and/or opportunity to play at higher levels. I have seen it many times: Athletes and parents hoping to get the call from the Big Boys in the SEC or Big 10 – a call that never comes. Once realizing that opportunity is not presenting itself they assume they will go to the next level down, and then maybe the next, and if they can’t cut it there why bother. After all, D-III is just glorified high school competition, right? …And maybe not as good as the competition at some high schools. But this is just not the case.
In our family, for instance, my older son had several football scholarship offers, and a few offers for track. Deciding on football, he even signed his National Letter of Intent at a press conference covered by the local TV station, and highlighted on the local network affiliate during the 5pm & 11pm newscasts. But in the end, during the Summer prior to enrollment, he decided that while he liked the football program, and loved the coach, he did not really like the school. He preferred a school where he could compete and develop as a well rounded individual. He asked for, and was granted a release, and enrolled at a D-III school – where his younger brother followed two years later. (Our younger son was not as widely recruited, but had some opportunities to Walk On had he desired. But he had his eyes set on some outstanding academic institutions, all of which were D-III, and never considered inquiries from those other schools.)
I am not suggesting one cannot become well rounded at D-1 schools. As a D-1 product, I certainly hope that is not the case. I simply offer our family experience as an illustration that D-III is not just for those with no other options. My son is not unique. Most of the kids who actually compete on D-III fields had other opportunities. And of those who did not have other offers, many of those athletes were not so much lacking skill as lacking a couple inches in height, or a couple steps in speed. In short, those who do play usually can play – really play.
Why do I write this, and post this video. Well, I guess one reason is simply to express my thoughts, or vent a little about the disrespect that D-III athletes endure from uninformed sports fans. But there is also a nobler, more hopeful reason. My hope is that maybe one parent of an aspiring athlete will read this post and then seriously encourage their son or daughter to consider a D-III institution in their recruiting process. D-III is not a last resort; it is sports the way it used to be – the way it ought to be. And as one coach said during my older son’s recruitment: “If you don’t plan to go on to play in the NFL (or NBA, or MLB, etc..) then what’s the difference? Just choose a school you can love, where you’d enjoy being for 4 years, and where in years to come you will be proud to be an alumn – and a letterman.”
March 21, 2013
With the NCAA Tournament on the near horizon, I thought I might serve up a basketball appetizer. What are the best movies ever made with a basketball theme? Here is my list, in order:
- Blue Chips
- Passing Glory
- Coach Carter
- He Got Game
- Glory Road
- Above the Rim
- Believe in Me
- The Pistol
- One on One
- Tall Story
What did I miss? What have I over-rated or under-rated?
March 18, 2013
My friend and once-upon-a-time informal mentor, Randy Nabors, has posted a score of tips for preachers on his blog, Randy’s Rag. I learned a lot from Randy just by hanging out and watching when I was a young pastor living and serving in the Chattanooga area. I post Randy’s Tips here because they are worthy of consideration by anyone who preaches. If you are a pastor, enjoy. If you are not, feel free to share them with your pastor – as long as you do it out of loving encouragement, and not just because you think you should try to improve him. That motivation will tank almost every time.
Anyway, here are Randy’s Tips for Preachers, gleaned during decades of transformational pastoral ministry and active mission engagement:
- Your aim is to have people see more of Christ and less of you.
- Make sure you love Christ more than you love preaching. You should love to preach, but it is only a means to talk about the One worth loving.
- Try to make sure your life is at all times qualified to represent God, your character worthy to stand at the holy desk at a sudden moment. It is better to give the responsibility to someone else, even for the moment, than to hurt your conscience by pretending to be something you are not.
- Don’t wait for perfection before you preach. The only perfect man who preached was also God. Holiness is a covering we have of the righteousness of Christ as well as the faith to pursue it, along with an honest and broken heart.
- Prepare to preach by marinating in the Word of God. Beware the pale substitute of commentaries.
- Read the text, translate the text, think through the text, dream the text, read the text.
- Pray for the text to minister to your own heart, hear the sermon for yourself, but remember your task is more important than waiting for your own blessing before you preach.
- While you are preaching, if you feel you are failing, pray in your heart for God to uphold you. If you feel you are doing well, pray that you will not preach in your own strength. Pray even as you speak.
- Beware of ruts, hobby horses, and anything that seems to regularly appear in your preaching that is in competition with the Gospel of grace and the glory of God. Anything, especially good things, can be a poor substitute for preaching Jesus. We are not called to preach theology but Christ, and all good theology leads to Him.
- If you preach the Old Testament without seeing Jesus or grace in it you don’t yet understand it.
- You have not been called to be intellectually esoteric, erudite, funny, or even comprehensive in your explanation of the text. All of those things have their place, but if people can’t see Christ you have failed.
- Illustrations should lead to something, don’t presume on abstract reasoning from the congregation, connect the dots.
- Be careful with your introduction. Don’t let it be too long, raise the issue (the main direction, question, or argument of your sermon) fairly soon. Don’t wander too far from your text, or simply read it at the beginning and fail to preach it. To not preach the text which you yourself have chosen is like telling the people that your ideas are more important than the Bible.
- Application is essential, simply reading and even explaining the text is not preaching.
- Self-disclose, confess your own faults, and use your life as an illustration with wisdom and a measure of restraint. Too little and you are hiding, too much and you are an exhibitionist.
- If you make a mistake in preaching (misinterpret, forgot the balance, were too flippant, too angry, insulted someone(s)), apologize publicly the next time you are up. Humility will win you favor.
- Never belittle, ridicule, or embarrass your wife and children as illustrations in your sermons. The congregation will take their side and miss the spiritual point you were trying to make. Once your daughter(s) reach middle school avoid mentioning them like the plague.
- Listen to your wife’s reactions, watch her face, she is probably the most loyal critic you will have.
- Sermon criticism is a good thing if you seek it from those who want to help you but don’t indulge in it immediately after you preach; let your ego heal from its vulnerability.
- Avoid arguments or being defensive right after a sermon, give yourself and others time to think things over.
- Don’t believe all the compliments nor all the complaints, though it is impossible to ignore them. So, try to learn from them in order to do better and not simply use them for your pride or your self-pity. Preaching is and ought to be a spiritual event, but it is also a craft that can be improved with skill.
- Get over it quickly, both euphoria and despair. Fire and forget, leave the results to God, and remount the horse to ride again.
- Attribute, cite, and give credit where you can or at least admit it is not original with you if it isn’t. Borrow and steal ideas ruthlessly, just admit it.
- As to the length of sermons, as my friend John Perkins said, (and he was quoting from someone else); “when you are done preaching, stop talking!”