Saturday, November 15, 2008

Winter Wonderland

We were on the webcam with Boston Becki and the "book girl" Molly the other day. Cathy asked about their weather, since we'll be visiting them soon. "It was in the 40s today," came the reply, "but it was a pretty nice day because the sun was shining."

Ahem. Given that response, this post may seem like the pickiest complaint you hear this year. Or at least this week. But... When is it really going to get cool here in the desert?

I was visiting these parts a few years before I lived here. I remember a conversation when a newcomer to the state was asking a local how long people had to run their air conditioning in the fall. "Usually until about the end of October."

"Well then, how long before you have to turn on the heater?"

I can remember the new guy's surprise when the local said, "Usually the same day."

I've lived here 23 summers now and it's amazing how often that prediction is true. The only thing that bugs me is that "the day" hasn't yet arrived this year. Halloween it was 90 degrees. Factoring in the "wind chill" and the humidity that made it seem like -- uh -- 90! It was still warm enough at our Family Fall Festival that you could have run around in shorts and a tee shirt if you wanted. At night. After dark!

It sort of cooled for a couple of days, then warmed right back up again. Today was in the high 80s.

Some of you are probably flat angry that I'm writing this while you're battening down the hatches for the winter season. The only reason I wish the cool would hurry up is that the real heat will return all too soon. I'd like a bit of briskness beforehand.

Oh, well. Boston for Thanksgiving. With my luck, I'll take the warm temps with me.

And it will be freezing down here!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pennsylvania 6-5000

The lady that cuts my hair told me the other day that her husband likes to "lose himself" playing video games when he gets home. He uses his gaming equipment with a small, black-and-white television. She said she likes that because it leaves her the nicer set to watch what she wants.

That got me thinking. I have always loved electronics and computers are a hobby for me. One of my favorite uses these days is the webcam. Well, when I was little, I can remember our first telephone, which allowed us access to the outside world through an operator. "Number, please." "624." (That was my friend Mike's number. Ours was 723.)

My grandparents, who had to communicate with us by mail from 80 miles away, would not have believed our ability to talk on something like a fancy TV screen to our kids and grandkids from all over the country.

Here's Cathy, better known to our favorite little people as "Grammy", sitting at the electronic equipment that brings so much joy into our home. Our children grew up many miles from their grandparents without this convenience so we are particularly aware of what a great blessing it is.

Computers and their ilk can deeply enhance communication. Or they can create a sizable impediment.

How do you use yours?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Way We Were

It was meant to be serious. Our family, gathered around the living room for "Family Devotions."

The oldest of four kids, I approached those moments with growing reluctance. I had heard about the importance of doing this and I knew my parents wanted to make it work. Still, taking the time to sit in a room and listen to a familiar chapter from Egermeier's Bible Story Book was not my idea of fun. Besides, the eight years that separated me and my kid brother, along with two sisters wedged in the middle, made these times so...

So boring!

I mean, I knew the stories. I had looked at all the pictures. I'm sure I could have dreamed up at least a hundred different things I would rather be doing. To top it off, one of the younger siblings always wanted to read and they couldn't do that very well yet.

I "suffered" through it, though. My family was so busy that we didn't take the time to have devotions that often. Now, so many years later, I remember. And I'm so grateful!

We are working on Christmas events among our church staff. This year, the season kicks off with a "Family Worship Sunday" on November 30. Kathie, our Children's Minister, asked if we might introduce and train our people to do Family Advent times in their own homes. We love the idea.

Kathie's family did this when her kids were small, but a page is missing from the book they used as a guide. She couldn't accurately recall what the theme was on the missing page so she asked one of her grown daughters. Her daughter said, "Mom, I don't remember much of what we did in Family Advent. I just remember how special it was that we took the time together."

It was Kathie's comment that sparked the idea of this post. You see, I really don't remember much of the content of those Family Devotions.

But I do remember!

I remember bowing our heads for a prayer time. We were each encouraged to offer up some kind of intercession. The prayer time usually started seriously enough. More times than I can count, though, one of my little sisters would start giggling while someone else prayed.

Then the other sister would put her hand over her mouth and try to control herself. My little brother and I would soon be (attempting to stay quiet) shaking in our own glee. Finally, with my dad trying to maintain some type of "spirituality", my mom would lose it.

As I said, I'm so grateful for those unforgettable moments. They are treasures tucked away in our hearts. They can't be recaptured.

The younger of my sisters, Carol Beth Norris, died of a heart infection on December 6, 1976. She was 20.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

'Til Her Daddy Takes The T-Bird Away

We're in a sermon series called "Insuring Your Financial Future" right now, so I have money management on my mind a lot. I've learned a lot of money lessons over the years. Here's one of them...

When I was young, I managed a small office at a Christian college. We were able to hire "Work Study" students in that office. They qualified for government aid which helped us pay them a decent part-time wage while minimizing the impact on our budget.

One of the girls who worked there I'll call Liz. Liz was a quiet girl with great work ethics. She was a pretty good student who planned a career as a teacher.

Liz was also, I knew, from a difficult family background. She worked hard to be able to attend our college, which wasn't cheap by any means.

As Liz reached her Senior year, she was in a quandary. She needed a way to get back and forth to elementary schools for her training as a student teacher. Public transportation wasn't great in Phoenix in those days. I'm sure it still pales to what some of you have available in big cities in the East. (I love the "T" in Boston!)

The logical answer was for Liz to buy a car. True to form, she made a careful, conservative decision. She found a simple, reliable used car for an excellent price. That introduced her to another problem. Even though she had money for a down payment and had proof of adequate income -- even though she had good references -- she had no credit history. She also had no possibility of backing from her family in another state.

Not sure what to do, Liz came to Cathy and me. We both knew her and were impressed with her. We wanted to help her succeed and we fully believed in her integrity...

So we cosigned for a loan at the local Credit Union.

It took well over a year for this lesson to come home to roost. Liz graduated, got her teaching certificate and moved back to her home state where she immediately found work. We were happy for her and proud of her accomplishment.

Then, one day, out of the blue, we received an official looking envelope from the Credit Union. Opening it, we discovered that Liz hadn't made her car payment in over 60 days. In fact, within just a couple of weeks, the loan would be in default and would immediately reflect on our credit rating! In other words, she had missed two payments, but this was the first time they notified us as cosigners!

In those days our income and expenses were very tight. We weren't in a position just to start paying for Liz's car. But if we didn't, we would take the hit! In fact, it was legally possible that we could pay for the rest of the loan and she could walk away unless we took her to court. Even then we might have received nothing but a huge lesson.

No wonder Solomon wrote so long ago...

1 My child, be careful about giving a guarantee for somebody else’s loan, about promising to pay what someone else owes.
2 You might get trapped by what you say; you might be caught by your own words.
3 My child, if you have done this and are under your neighbor’s control, here is how to get free. Don’t be proud. Go to your neighbor and beg to be free from your promise.
(Proverbs 6:1-3 NCV)

Our story had a happy ending. We contacted Liz. She was deeply embarrassed and sorry. She had a setback because of unforeseen circumstances, but she got back on her payment schedule and paid us back for the payment we had made.

Our nation has entered a season of tight money. The easy credit of our recent past has us reeling. Many people who qualified a short time ago will now have trouble getting loans. No doubt, you will have a "Liz" needing your help.

Can you afford it?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Serving with a smile.

I said thanks to Veterans this morning. I want to add the following picture which was just sent to me from Iraq. The Marine is a very focused young lady who is a part of our church.

Thank You!

Side by side they stood on that bright October afternoon. They talked quietly. Remembering. Sometimes with tears.

These two pastors, one black and one white, moved slowly down the walkway of the Vietnam Memorial.

In their memories they transported back to a time when they were each just kids. Kids who were thrown into the ugliness of a conflict that would mark their lives. It was a time when when they fought with M-16s and grenades rather than the "Sword of the Spirit."

Before we arrived at The Wall that afternoon, our little group of five or six had been walking, talking, telling stories and laughing. All from Yuma, we took advantage of some free time before we gathered on the National Mall to pray with men from around the country. Something changed when we stopped there to remember.

The silence was palpable.

These two vets each found the names of men they knew. They stayed close to each other as they located those names forever etched. They obviously thought of the horror they had seen. They grieved over the comrades they wouldn't see again in this life.

I'll never forget the sight.

On this Veterans Day, thank you! Thank you, Johnny Mac, Patti and Josh (all on our staff) for serving. Thank you Russ and Shawn and Kelly and Ox and Binky and Chris and Redhead and Tal and Rob. It's a privilege to know each of you I want you to know how grateful I am that you served our nation.

Thank you to all in our Stone Ridge family who, either now or in the past, don a uniform and place yourself in the line of fire so that we can be free.

Thank you, spouses and family members who endure the hardship of long separations, challenging days and lonely nights. Your loved ones who serve always tell me that YOU are the real heroes.

The USA has its problems. It's far from perfect. But our freedom has always come at a price. It's a price you help pay.

Thank you!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Inside, Outside, Upside-Down

The older I get, the simpler some parts of the Bible are. It's always a temptation to see them, then teach them as complicated. I heard about the country preacher who wanted to show off his "larnin'". Preaching from the good, old King Jimmy Version, he would stop every time he came to the word "ye." "That's a little Greek word," he would say. "It means 'you.'"

Anyway, the older I get, the teachings of Jesus seem more and more simple. Peel away the veneer of religion and He said some pretty amazing things. Maybe that's why the religious people of His day didn't like Him all that much and the regular folks followed Him in droves.

I told you yesterday about conducting the memorial service for a man who LOVED his family. What I didn't tell you was that he -- his name was Jerry -- wasn't religious at all. His wife explained that, after a few times of trying in their early married life (almost 45 years ago), he wanted nothing to do with church.

Some months ago, Jerry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It affected his optic nerve and he lost his sight. Ultimately it took his life at the relatively young age of 65. In the waning months, he faithfully went to all his grandkids' sporting events and cheered them on, even though he couldn't see them play.

This non-religious man ended up teaching me some pretty profound spiritual truth and helped me see some simple things I might have missed.

Even as an enemy had started growing in Jerry's body, something beautiful was born in his soul. A tiny sprout of what Jesus called eternal life began to stretch and move around inside him. His family started noticing subtle, but powerful changes in the way he interacted with people and with life in general. He was less gruff and more gentle. He started opening up and talking more. He even wanted to go to church.

An outsider might think that this was a dying man grasping for some hope after this life. If you had known Jerry, you wouldn't think that. This was a man who told you exactly what he thought was right and didn't care much how you felt about it. He was "real." He was really changing. I'm not sure that even he understood it, but he spoke openly about the faith that was awakened in him.

John, who called himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved," wrote many years after the resurrection: "He who has the Son has the life." (1 John 5:12) As someone who spent most of my ministry years trying to make sure that people followed a certain religious formula to become a Christian, I am increasingly convinced that eternal life isn't about formulas or tradition or even a set of pet doctrines. It's about life.

I don't know how it started, but I'm convinced Jerry had it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Golden Age

Yesterday my daughter Beth wrote in her blog about watching SciFi Television Series' on Netflix. I wanted to take a minute and respond by telling her (and you) some shows I'd like to see again. Some of them may be in reruns somewhere and one of my kids can look them up. If not, maybe this is my Christmas wish list. Here goes:

1. Jungle Jim.
I watched this highly popular series that no one has ever heard of when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Johnny Weismuller had retired from doing Tarzan movies and shot this series about -- you guessed it -- the jungle. Only this time he wore clothes. And a Safari hat.

2. Branded.
Chuck Connors had retired (sounds like a pattern here) from The Rifleman and played a Civil War soldier falsely accused and "branded" a criminal for the rest of his life. He was the quintessential mistreated good guy you wanted redeemed, but who never quite made it. The show only lasted a season, then (according to Beth's blog), he must have ended up playing a space cowboy on Firefly. (Ooops, never mind. He had alread died.)

3. Mannix.
Joe Mannix was a private detective who chased bad guys every Sunday night. I didn't really watch the show that much, but every time I think about it, the theme gets stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

4. Mission Impossible.
Yes, I love the movies, too. Except that they had to hire Jon Voight to play Jim Phelps because Peter Graves wouldn't accept the script. Come on -- Jim was one of the best straight-arrow good guys to ever grace a series! AND I think the original show might be my favorite series of all time. At least in my top five. AND, did you know that Peter Graves was the real-life brother of James Arness -- Marshall Dillon of Gunsmoke! I bet holidays were crazy in that family!

5. The Equalizer.
Don't get me these. I watched them until I just couldn't anymore. I loved the show because it was about a hero who helped underdogs against a corrupt system. And it's another theme song I can't get out of my mind.

Weekend fun. What show would you choose?