Friday, December 02, 2016

The Scarlet Letter

In sixteen days, I will be preaching Tiffany and Tony's wedding.... and no one will care what I wear! The following, on the topic of clothes and weddings, is from from November 27, 2006.

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a wedding banquet. A king threw a feast for his son to celebrate the joyous occasion. When the father/head of the kingdom sees a guest dressed inappropriately, he has the man thrown outside with the implication that punishment would be forthcoming. It's a pretty stern warning! Ten days ago, I officiated the wedding of Emily and Josh, now formerly referred to as Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Wood. Sometimes when I preach weddings, the bride asks me to wear a tuxedo. Emily requested that I dress in a suit. It just so happens that I own a gray suit which has served me well in performing other nuptials. My students voted and picked out the tie I would wear. The only article of clothing remaining was the shirt. I knew I would wear a white one and I own a white one, but that wasn't going to be good enough. The only store credit card I possess is to KOHL'S and they had just sent me a thirty percent off coupon in the mail. Checking the on-line advertisements, I discovered they were having a sale so I drove to the nearest KOHL'S to complete my minister's wardrobe. It didn't take long. I found a 15 1/2, 34-35 white long sleeve oxford shirt on sale for half price. Slice that down by my thirty percent discount and I ended up paying only $15.40 for a shirt that retails for $44.00! It still had the new shirt folded up look so Gracie Greer, our Director of Curriculum, ironed it for me. I have to admit, and I say this humbly, I ended up looking pretty sharp when all the pieces were put in place. But at a wedding, nobody looks at anybody but the bride. Of the many who honored this fine couple with their attendance, I bet not five could tell you what I wore. That's the way it should be.

Today was our first day back to school after Thanksgiving and I wore my new shirt. The bonus question on all our Bible quizzes was as follows:
In what country was my new shirt manufactured?
A. Belize
B. Bahrain
C. Bolivia
D. Belgium
E. Bangladesh
F. Bahamas
G. Brazil

(For the answer, you have to read the rest of this and find it at the bottom!)
I have a confession to make. I think the shirt was overpriced to begin with. It is a CHAP'S shirt, manufactured by Ralph Lauren. The logo C is stitched very prominently into the shirt pocket. They want us to see it. It stands for something. I think we are to believe it is symbolic for the good life and beautiful people that decorate their glossy ads. What it really means to me is that we are willing to pay three times what a shirt is worth to have that little C displayed on our chest. We buy into the illusion. We confuse quality, which is admirable, for status, which is boastful and arrogant. I think it is a quality shirt and it fits me well but the arrogance it can dress me in would not be becoming. In Jesus' parable, the man had no answer when he was asked why he arrived improperly outfitted. I didn't get tossed that Saturday: I looked OK on the outside. I hope my heart was acceptable under that red monogram.

Applicable quote of the day:
"Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are."
Quentin Crisp

Answer to today's bonus question: BANGLADESH

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

Today, my eighth graders watched Charlie Brown Christmas and took a quiz over the twenty-five minute film. On December 9, 1965, this now legendary holiday special was seen for the first time on CBS. The animated cartoon strip, which CBS executives feared would be poorly received, garnered a whopping 49% share of all televisions tuned in that night! I work with the Chinese portion of my church and I've found not everything American translates into every language. Preaching to brothers and sisters from another culture presents some unique challenges as you will see in this entry from December of 2005.

On the last Sunday of each month, I preach for our Chinese congregation at the Westbury church of Christ. On the first and third Sundays, the pulpit is filled by Dr. Robert Farrar, our Westbury Christian School chaplain. We are blessed with an excellent translator, Yirong Gu. This past Sunday, Doc began his sermon with an illustration. He mentioned a comic strip- Yirong was not sure what that was. Doc then made reference to Charlie Brown and Peanuts- another blank. Linus, Lucy-our interpreter was clueless. Yirong's English skills are excellent and he has lived in the US for a number of years but it didn't matter. I asked my Chinese students this week about Charlie Brown- same response. I guess Peanuts just doesn't cross some cultural borders!

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Its initial airing pulled in almost half the nation's viewing audience. There were a number of concerns about running it in the first place. Linus read straight from the scriptures, quoting from Luke 2. The soundtrack was much more jazz-oriented than the usual season's fare. The voices were supplied by children, some who could not read and were taught their lines phonetically. There were no adults in the cartoon and the action was terribly slow by modern standards. But the charm of this cartoon special has endured, now a fixture in five decades. I showed A Charlie Brown Christmas in my classes today, borrowing Karen McCarty's copy. (I am going to have to find a new tape- the wonderful Karen and family are moving to Italy in January.) This classic tale might be considered dull when compared to the animation possible today. A Charlie Brown Christmas is just a simple story about children and the way they look at Christmas. The sad truth is, they look at it like adults often do. The point Charles Schulz hammered at was the commercialization of the holiday season. We consider the 1960's to be such an innocent age- how much worse is the commercialization today? I heard a radio commercial this morning: "Nothing says I love you like a Rolex." Jesus had a much better interpretation of how to say you love someone:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
Charlie Brown is all of us- he can't do anything right. He knows what he needs but he has a hard time expressing it. He lets his circumstances beat him down. He feels unworthy. That's the story of Jesus- the Savior coming to the world to save those who can't save themselves, a lost humanity stumbling in search of any hope. That's the best Christmas story of all because it's really the only Christmas story.

Applicable quote of the day:
"I'm not alone at all, I thought. I never was alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses."
Taylor Caldwell

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Student Beatitudes, November 2016, Chapter III

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
My Bible classes finished the Beatitudes recently. The eight statements of Jesus at the outset of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's chapter five are familiar to Christians but are often foreign to the way we act. How are we supposed to rejoice and mourn concurrently? Who feels good about being mistreated? Philip Yancey translated these teachings as Lucky Are The Unlucky. Our class periods centered around our own translations of these contradictory, to the non-believer, words of truth from the lips of the Savior. Each student was assigned the task of recreating the Beatitudes in ways that made sense to them in twenty-first century Houston, Texas. What follows is a sampling of the theology of my students. All are used by permission with boys in blue and girls in pink:

Blessed are the tall, for there will be no ceilings in heaven. - Success
Blessed to those who live on the street because when you get to heaven, you will live wherever you want. - Kolby
Blessed are those who don’t know where they stand in the world, because they sit on the right hand of the father. - Tsydea
Blessed are the overweight, for there are no scales in heaven. - Andre
Blessed are the unintelligent for there is no gpa in heaven. - Oliva
Blessed be the historians, for the past will come alive in heaven. - Jacob
Blessed are the brokenhearted for their hearts will be mended by God’s love - Kalani
Blessed are those with conflicts, for it will help you grow. - Nehemiah
Blessed are the volleyball players, for they will jump for God. - Gail
Blessed are the ugly for God looks only at the soul. -Tyler
Blessed are the disabled for they will have the ability to do all through Christ. - Q
Blessed are the broken down, for God will build them into something greater. - Margaret
Blessed are the obese, for they look perfect in God’s eyes. - Wesley
Blessed are the lonely for Jesus is a forever friend. Jenna
Blessed are the blind, for they can’t become corrupted by the world’s sights. - James
Blessed are the wise, for their wisdom may be shared. - Jack Blessed are they who are picked on for all shall be equal in heaven. - Brady

God bless, Steve Luke 18:1 E-mail me at

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I AM Statements 2016

My classes recently finished studying the seven I AM statements Jesus made in the Gospel of John. If you aren't familiar with them, here they are!
I am the bread of life.
I am the true vine.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the gate for the sheep.
I am the light of the world.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.

I gave my students the assignment of coming up with their own I AM statements which would define them. Again tonight, I am posting some of them. They are brutally honest and all are used with permission, boys in blue and girls in pink!
I am the girl who can sing but is too shy to sing out loud.
I am the boy who is respected for being respectful.
I am the girl with good hair.
I am the girl who has never had a boyfriend.
I am the boy whose family will do anything for him.
I am a girl who has more guy than girl friends.
I am the boy who gives in.
I am the girl who is still trying to figure out how to be her own kind of beautiful.
I am the girl who doesn’t like to share her feelings.
I am the boy who wants to impress his parents in basketball.
I am the boy who doesn’t have good grades but is very intelligent.
I am the girl whose mind is always blank.
I am the boy who is quiet yet anxious.
I am a girl who doesn’t know where she will end up.
I am the girl who says things at wrong times.
I am a boy who thinks most girls are pretty.
I am the girl who wants life to leave her alone.
I am the boy who speaks out of turn.
I am the boy who has a paranoid state of mind.
I am the one who strives to walk on the path of righteousness.
I am the girl who acts like she isn’t listening.
I am the boy from a troubled crazy family.
I am the guy you should really get to know.
I am the girl who doesn’t like to be hurt.
I am the girl who was going to get aborted.
I am a boy who is watched over by God.
I am the girl who hopes people don’t hurt my feelings.
I am the boy who is the leader of the pack.
I am the girl who wants to be treated fairly.
I am the boy who questions why the world is so cruel.
I am the boy who is the light of the sun.
I am the boy who sometimes doubts God.
I am the boy who lets opportunities slip away.
I am the girl wanting answers in my life.
I am the boy who want to be different in the future.
I am the one trying so desperately to prove I can get good grades but I don't.

God bless, Steve Luke 18:1 E-mail me at

Monday, November 28, 2016

Mirror Images, Autumn of 2016, Part IV

We worked on one of my favorite assignments in our classes two weeks ago. Back in October, one of our written memory verses was James 1:22-24:
"Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.''
We discussed the meaning and I brought up that Mom, in her late stages of Alzheimer's, did not recognize her own image. I told the kids that sometimes at the end of the day, I look at myself in the mirror, and don't always like what I see. The kids finished this statement: 'When I look in the mirror, I see....' Every student was allowed complete confidentiality and I did not even read any that requested privacy. My students were very honest. Over the next few nights, I'll run some of the responses of those who wanted to share.  Some will choke you up. All are used by permission. Boys are in blue and girls are in pink.

Everytime I look in the mirror, I see a boy struggling to become a man. I see all my shortcomings and failures. I see a man willing to help others who can’t help themselves, but is sometimes overcome by fear. I see someone who tries to be the best he can possibly be and never gives up. I see me, which is all I am.

When I look into the mirror. I see a girl who has a lot of pressure on her. She is constantly trying to meet everyone’s expectations for her and in the midst of trying to do that is slowly losing her own dreams and hopes for herself. I see a girl with anxiety who constantly wonders what the future holds for her. I see a girl who desires to be successful, but doesn’t know if she has what it takes. I see a girl who loves God, but struggles daily to fight a mental battle with the devil. I see a girl who tries to always smile to hide the hurt, pressure, and anxiety that's on the inside. I see a girl who lacks trust in people from being let down and lied to so much. I see a girl whose goals seem to always be out of reach. I see a girl who is weary of change because of fear of the unknown. I see a girl who constantly doubts herself. However, I also see a girl who depends on God and knows He is the only way to get through it all.

When I look into the mirror, I see a man who has endless thoughts for the future. I see a man who plans and plans but never delivers. I see a man who is filled with uncertainty. I see a man who cares so much and so little at the same time. I see a man who loves his country, a man willing sacrifice for the protection of others. When I look into the mirror I see man who is being eaten alive by stress and the need to please people. I see a man who tries to cope with pain by myself.

When I look into the mirror, I see a strong, ambitious, well rounded girl who has her sight set on success. I see confidence and determination, and a mind full of dreams. I also see a big sister, who has taken on the role of a parent to younger siblings when both of hers aren’t around. I see a daughter who hurts for her parents, and for her older brother, who hurts more from them than she does. I see a role model for younger kids, a friend to almost everyone - someone who aims to be polite and kind to all, no matter the situation. I see a girl who has been rejected by her friends, and taken advantage of by them. I see someone who has had a long history of trying to fit in and subtlely never seeming to get it - like an oval in a sea full of circles. I see a fractured girl who has been broken and put back together again many times. I see a girl, who despite being so fractured, is still growing and changing and convincing to put herself back together, no matter what happens. I see a girl, who despite trying so hard and doing so much extra for people who never ask or deserve it, is never thanked or rewarded. And yet, she still moves forward, growing in her faith in God and her relationship with friends, moving toward a bright future of traveling to the world, finding happiness, ultimately fulfilling her life and becoming successful enough to pay off her parents’ debts and then some.

When I look in the mirror. I see a boy becoming a man. I see a boy who has great expectations that other don’t see. I see a boy who wants to travel the world and gain knowledge. I see an imperfect boy who only wants to do right but is never satisfied. I see a boy who wants to like everyone but not everyone likes him. I see a boy that when times are hard turns to God. I see a boy who wants to trust what he believes in.

When I look into the mirror, I see a girl who compares herself to everyone who has more things than I do. I see someone who wants to accomplish the world, but doesn’t know where to start. I see someone struggling to fit in because she isn’t “cool.” I laugh at these thoughts loudly. How funny it is that I can think about this things when I am told daily that these things don’t matter and I am better than them. When I look into the mirror, I see a girl with a smile that the world sees as art. I see a head that is shaped like an onion as my mom would tell me my dad had, which makes me laugh even harder. I see a girl that she tells everything to. I see a girl whose small in height, but has a big attitude. I see a girl with big dreams and hopes for the future. And lastly, I see me, for what I really am.

When I look in the mirror, I see a young childish boy who has great dreams and ambition. I see a boy who wants everyone in this world to be his friend. I see a boy who has a deep love in music and piano. I see a boy who is always happy with everything even though he sometimes runs into some troubles. But when I have a closer inspection, I see a boy sometimes feels really mad about one thing and pain about another one. But he tries to hide it because he can’t look at them as he cannot stand these things. But the last time I looked at the mirror, the sad man and problems were fading away and the happiness and joy are filling it in. When I look into the mirror, the facial expressions and the face of the boy looks very similar. Oh, wait a minute! It is me!

When I look into the mirror, I see what nobody else sees. I see someone trying to do right and constantly failing. I see someone afraid to start relationships because of doubt. I see someone who strives for greatness but let’s procrastination get in the way. I see someone who is tired of failing but never gives up. I see someone who is tired of their friends but does not want to give up on them. I see someone who wants to stand out from the rest, but not in the ways that most people would think. I see someone who plans on admiring greatness, spiritually, physically, and mentally.

When I look into the mirror, I see a girl who does not yet know her place in this world, or where to begin. I see a girl who is terrified of what the future has in store for her and does not believe she can achieve it. I see a girl who constantly tries to please everyone around her, but does not take the time to console and comfort herself. She'd rather keep all of her thoughts inside because it’s easier for her, Then, she does not have to deal with the sympathy of others, or wonder what they are thinking, although she secretly desires to be heard. A girl who does not trust easily because she has dealt with the pain of betrayal, and does not want to be hurt again. I also see someone who lacks confidence in herself, especially because she has been told “you’re not smart enough” multiple times. Due to those words, she believes it, and those words starts to become part of her. She feels immense pressure from this, because she feels as though she has to meet those requirements (of being smart), because that is that is how people know her; the smart girl. I see a girl who pretends and alters her image just to fit the criteria the others want her to be or act.  I see a girl who strives for perfection although she knows perfection does not exist. Ultimately I see a girl who loves unconditionally, is sensitive, compassionate, and is the person that everyone comes for advice, yet, does not follow her own advice and is easily affected by people’s words. Overall, I see a girl who just wants to find her place and purpose, even though she knows it will be scary and challenging. However, she has no doubt that God will be patiently waiting for her with open arms.

Applicable quote of the day:
Every relationship that we have in our lives - our contact with each person, place, and event - serves a very special, if yet to be realized purpose: They are mirrors that can serve to show us things about ourselves that can be realized in no other way.
Guy Finley

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Waiting Game

I guess we all survived Black Friday without too much damage, although there were a few minor mishaps at Dave and Sally's house. Several of the next generation went shopping in the middle of the night and got locked out of the house upon their return. Nothing that a few discreet taps on the window couldn't fix, though! Several of us went to Starbucks at 7 AM and witnessed there was still a line outside Best Buy. I'm not a big shopper- after all, it's not Christmas Eve yet. Still, last week, KOHL'S very kindly sent me a $10 gift card so I ventured out to their nearby store as I concurrently gassed up for the drive back to Houston. I found two pairs of shoes on sale but could not find the matching boxes to the ones offered at discount. Turning to the ties, I found a 50% off ARROW tie that I liked. I should have mentioned I also had a 15% discount which would have made my bill after taxes approximately five dollars. I got in line which stretched all the way around the shoe department. In three minutes, we had not moved at all, so I considered my options. Perhaps wait in line for an hour for something I can probably get for less at a later date when it's marked down 90%..... or go home which at the time was Dave and Sally's. I chose option B and left with absolutely no regrets and no tie. What's that old proverb? You have to fish or cut bait? Well, I did one of them, just not sure which. Sometimes those old sayings confuse more than confirm a certain truth!

Waiting isn't bad. My rule for coming off basketball screens is, "WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!" We tell kids to wait their turn and in a more mature sense, we preach to them to, "Wait until marriage!" But we are an anxious species at times, wanting to speed up everyday processes. We switch lines constantly at the grocery store, hoping to save at most a minute or two and often costing ourselves more time. But waiting for the right moment in God's time is an eternal quality of faithfulness. Abraham waited to become a father. Zechariah and Elizabeth waited to become parents although it looks like Zechariah may have given up. David waited for God to give him the throne that Saul held rather than intervene with weapons forged by man. It's here you likely are waiting for me to quote Isaiah 40:31 so I will oblige!
But they that wait upon the 
Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (KJV)
It's so much easier said than done. We run ahead like children run ahead of their moms and dads in their excitement to get to the park or the beach or the ice cream stand. Paul spoke several times of waiting for the Lord to return. Many of us seem in no rush for that to happen! But everything will happen in His time, a hard concept for us earthlings to grasp. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiates 3 that, 

He (God)has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I hate to quibble with David's amzingly brilliant son but I perhaps I caught just a glimpse of eternity on Black Friday. It looks suspiciously like a loooonnnggg line of shoppers in the Kohl's on Rock Road in Wichita, Kansas in the day after Thanksgiving. I just couldn't wait.

Applicable quote of the day:
But the important thing about learning to wait, I feel sure, is to know what you are waiting for. 

Anna Neagle

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Family

Once again this November, I was blessed to spend Thanksgiving with Sally's family with only the location changing and a few more kiddos thrown in for good measure! This is from November 23, 2012.

I spent Thanksgiving Day yesterday with Sally's family in the small town of Haven, Kansas. We arrived at roughly 9:30 AM at the home of Sally's sister, Susan, and her husband, Phil, and drove back to Wichita some time after 11 PM. It was a very  fast approximate thirteen hours of my life. Nothing incredible happened. Twenty-one adults, according to Betsy, official table setter, sat down to an unbelievable feast. Not included in that count were five children five and under including two under one year and not counting Luke and Amanda's unborn who is due in April. After the meal, we talked about what we are thankful for and then settled down to football games, reading, card games, talking, and desserts. It was very comfortable and very comforting. There was no anger and no alcohol. I wish some of my students would have the chance at least once in their lives to experience a holiday season free of drama and histrionics with those related by familial blood and the blood of Jesus. A number of years ago, I came across the following passage from a woman named Ernestine Schumann Heink which I think is as fine a definition of family as I've ever read. In face, I use it in the weddings I preach. I hope the families of the bride and groom mirror this passage. I know the family I spent Thanksgiving with does.

“A roof to keep out the rain. Four walls to keep out the wind. Floors to keep out the cold. Yes, but home is more than that. It is the laugh of a baby, the song of a mother, the strength of a father. Warmth of loving hearts, light from happy eyes, kindness, loyalty, comradeship. Home is first school and first church for young ones, where they learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind. Where they go for comfort when they are sick or hurt. Where fathers and mothers are respected and loved. Where children are wanted. Where the simplest food is good enough for kings because it is earned. Where money is not so important as loving kindness. Where even the tea kettle sings for happiness. That is home. God bless it.”

Applicable quote of the day:
God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at