Friday, September 22, 2017

Feliz Cumpleaños, Ruby!

I saw Ruby yesterday at a volleyball game, watching Vanessa, here sister play for our middle school squad. This is about younger Ruby and a painful moment for me! It's from Mat 13, 2011.
Ruby turned fourteen today. It’s hard for me to believe- she was only a one year old infant when I moved to Houston. I’ve watched her go through our summer basketball camps since she was five and witnessed her turning into an excellent player, becoming only the second WCS girl to start three years on our middle school squad. In the coming years, she has a chance to be a major contributor to our high school team which ended the season ranked in the top ten nationally. Ruby has to work hard- she’s not the biggest girl on our team- but she has developed an excellent skill set and court awareness that can carry her to her goal of playing collegiately. This morning, we celebrated Ruby’s birthday in practice with the favorite beverage of the Lady Wildcats, Capri Suns* (*with 25% less sugar to boot!)

Besides basketball, I’ve also had the honor of being Ruby’s eighth grade Bible teacher this year. Yesterday afternoon, as we made cards of encouragement for a former player (see A Pleading For Prayers), I reminded Ruby it was only one year until her Quinceañera, or fifteenth birthday celebration for girls of Hispanic descent. Since this is a really big deal and I am her coach, I felt it my obligation to offer my services to Ruby and her wonderful family as a singer for this extravaganza. She very graciously reminded me that a large portion of the gala would be in Spanish. Not a problem! I called up my favorite Latino country singer, Freddy Fender, on you tube and played one of the few songs that chokes me up, Before The Next Teardrop Falls, which is sung in both English and Spanish. I sang along to this classic tearjerker, hoping to impress Ruby enough to give me the stage on one of the biggest evenings of her life and guess what? She hired me! Of course, we have twelve months and some actual talent to consider but for once in my life, I passed a musical tryout and that in two languages! I guess Ruby isn’t the only one with reason to celebrate!

In one of my classes this afternoon, the question arose as to whether or not Jesus would have made a good coach. The class was split on the question. Some of the students believe He would get mad and yell at players while others can’t see that at all. One contended the Savior would corral all the best athletes but one voiced the opinion that the Christ would take nobodies and make them winners. Who knows? I do know Jesus took a dozen average Joes and turned them into a world changing force. But I also know this: when I decided to give my life to the Lord, there was no audition. He took me as I was, flawed as any twelve year old boy can be and He still loves me, in spite of me. I don’t have to jump through hoops or impress Him with my goodness of which I confess there is little on many days. He won’t change His mind, as I know Ruby might do AND as Ruby should do. I made it to His stage without having any stage presence or being required to sing one note in any language. We all want to know we made the cut and when I look at it from that perspective, I feel it’s like my birthday, too! Maybe we can strike a deal. Ruby’s family, the most musically gifted relatives I know, can play at my wedding. Then we’ll be even! I love happy endings. Happy birthday, Ruby!

Applicable quote of the day:
Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.
Larry Lorenzoni

To listen to Freddy Fender, click or copy/paste link below:

God bless,
Luke 18:1

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Falling Out

I rarely went to the doctor as a child as I have always been blessed with good health. The following is about my most memorable trip to the doctor's office when I was in elementary school. Every word is true! This ran in March of 2006.

When I was in fifth grade, my hair began falling out in clumps. My parents were at a loss and took me to a dermatologist in Lincoln to find out what was wrong. (There must not have been any dermatologists in my hometown of 6,000.) The doctor performed an examination and exiled me to the waiting room. He proceeded to castigate my folks for my condition. This is the conversation as recreated by my parents:
"What are you doing to that boy?"
Dumbfounded, my parents asked what he was talking about.
"That young man is terribly upset about something! Are you beating him?"

My parents denied the allegation.
"He must be maladjusted at school!"
Mom and Dad replied I made good grades, had plenty of friends, and participated in every sport available.
"What rules do you have for him that could be causing him this kind of anguish?"
The only rule they could think of was that I/we had to eat everything on our plates or we could not have dessert. They told him that I detested squash and liver.

"That's it. That's what is causing his hair to fall out!"
My parents were incredulous. It was so silly that it bordered on the absurd. But, to get him off their back (in my opinion), they agreed to drop the dessert addendum to our supper contract. Guess what? Immediately, my hair ceased its exodus and grew back in just like before.

I was blessed with terrific parents. For years, they traveled the country, putting on Marriage Encounter and Marriage Enrichment seminars. One point they consistently made was that they were imperfect in raising their children but did the best they could. Why did my hair fall out? I have no clue. Do I believe it had any connection with eating squash and liver? Absolutely not. I am sure it was purely coincidental. My parents felt the same way. But, they loved me enough to get to the bottom of the dilemma and were willing to go to expense and inconvenience to help their son. The Bible instructs parents to train their offspring and further warns fathers not to exasperate their children. (I am sure most of the exasperation came from my end!) Mom and Dad followed those guidelines to perfection even if their children were somewhat flawed. My folks knew more about raising kids than an unnamed dermatologist in Lincoln, Nebraska. But, I will never gripe about his cure for my scalp.

Applicable quote of the day:
"Sometimes, you like to let the hair do the talking!"
James Brown

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Right Time And Place

We had another good Lady Wildcat basketball practice this morning, our 14th of the young and interrupted by Harvey 2017-2018 school year. Last Friday morning, as we did the Friday before that, we practiced against our middle school boys in our first period workout. We share a gym with the Wildcat squad, separated by a curtain most days. But five days ago, the curtain was raised and we played a mini- tournament of boys versus girls in three and four man teams with games going to three baskets. I only have seven girls this year so it's a terrific opportunity to play against kids who are much quicker and in some cases, more experienced, than we are. And we held our own. My guess is the females won about 2/3 of the inter-gender contests. The boys' coaches, Michael Williams and Robert Harper, were very complimentary of my girls. They remarked how the girls communicate and play well together, compliments with which I concur. I returned the favor, praising the boys for playing hard which not all kids today do. It was a day when both team got better; win-win!

To be honest, I'm not sure how good we will be. We always talk in turns of improving instead of winning games. But here is one thing I  really like about this team. In those fourteen days of practice, every girl has been present AND every girl has been on time, even early. Unless you coach kids, this may not seem like a big deal but it is. I've had teams that were not good at this and there is always a negative carry over. This bunch is special. On the first day of school, the first thing I told them is that in the real world, someone who is late for work is called unemployed. They took it to heart and here I have to give props to their folks who deliver them. Not many twelve and thirteen year olds have driver's licenses! 

Look, there are times when being late in unavoidable. We know Godly people who are usually behind in their appointments. Some Wednesday nights, I run late for Bible study. I have little excuse, unlike parents with multiple kiddos who have to travel some distance. I believe the discipline it takes to be where we should be at the proper moment is vital as we mature. Our school bell system has been out for the past two weeks and tardiness is creeping in. I told the kids there will be consequences when the system is fixed and there again will be clear cut times of dismissal from one class and arrival to the next. I find it interesting that in Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon never threw in a time to be early and a time to be late with his other eternal lines of wisdom. Maybe just being there can suffice on occasion but there is also something about getting somewhere before required I find admirable. I had a teacher moment this afternoon. My last section is an 8th period, 8th grade Bible class. As I stood at the door, three middle schoolers literally sprinted to be the first inside Room 258. The one girl of the trio, Erin, emerged victorious. Now I'm not advocating running in the halls but I do know they would not have been early if they hated our class. I hope that's the way my basketball players feel, too. And I hope that's how we feel when it's time for worshiping with our body of believers. Time will tell.

Applicable quote of  the day:
If I have made an appointment with you, I owe you punctuality, I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own. 
Richard Cecil

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I Guarantee It

What happens when the founder of a company is kicked out of his own business? This is from May 29, 2013. Last week, the news was filled with stories involving scandal and charges of wrong doing with many celebrities. There's the ongoing case of New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez and his involvement in the homicide of a friend. Celebrity chef Paula Deen was terminated by the Food Network and lost a multitude of endorsements for her use of racial slurs. In the odd department, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West had their baby and named the child....North. No Joes or Marys for the rich and famous these days!

What I thought was the oddest story of the week, however, dealt with someone who is a semi-celebrity simply because of his advertisements. The Board of Directors for Men's Wearhouse ousted George Zimmer as executive chairman and spokesman of the company he founded. That's right- he got fired from his own company, the one that would not exist if it were not for him. I read some quotes about how there were disagreements about his wish to sell the company to private investors. Zimmer fired back and the uproar has continued now for more than a week. I'll be honest- I've never purchased anything from Men's Wearhouse.  Several years ago, I needed some clothes and it came down to Jos A. Bank or Men's Wearhouse. Since Dave and Sally had given me some pants from Jos A. Bank, I chose to go there and have been a customer ever since. Still, I like Men's Wearhouse if for no other reason than their commercials. You could always count on every ad ending with George Zimmer telling us,
"You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it." That voice is silent now. Well, who knows how business works- I mean Twinkies are back- but it looks like the run of George Zimmer is over.

Here's what I think is fascinating. Without George Zimmer, there is no Men's Wearhouse. Opening his first store, in Houston of all places, in 1973 at the age of twenty-five, Zimmer became the face and voice of Men's Wearhouse in 1986 when he began appearing in their commercials. I wonder if the company will just act like he doesn't exist in their new ads, kind of persona non grata. You know, I've noticed something when I hear advertisements for churches when they invite the listeners to their assemblies  On a number of occasions, they don't mention God or Jesus. Instead, the message is heavy on the church itself instead of the founder, the one who gave His life for its creation. The ads tend to be along the line of, "Experience_____________!" and you can insert the name of a church in the blank. I'm all for welcoming guests- the book of James was very blunt about it and the manner in which outsiders were treated- but if we take the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit out of the equation, there is no need to assemble. We become nothing more than a service organization like the Lions Club (which by the way does extraordinary work with donated eyeglasses), a bunch of nice folks who get together for charitable purposes but who have no holy calling. Maybe I'm overreacting but I get the idea that sometimes Jesus is just an afterthought. I'm not innocent in the matter either. It's much easier to tell people I am going to church rather than to say I'm going to worship my Creator and His Son who died so I might live. I've got some changing to do myself. I guarantee it.

Applicable quote of the day:
Luke 18:1
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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Stain

Saturday to me is laundry day. Every Saturday afternoon, I make the trek down to the other end of the hall in my apartment building for one of my least favorite chores. BUT, it beats wearing dirty clothes! The following, also about my wardrobe, is from November 13, 2006.

I wore my favorite shirt to school today. It is a long-sleeve, blue and white pin stripe Arrow shirt, size 15 1/2, 34-35. In spite of being my favorite shirt, today was the first time it has been on my back since last March. On a fateful Spring day, I left a stick of gum in the pocket. Since I am a careless guy (is that redundant?) and did not check my pockets before laundering, shirt and gum went through the washer/dryer simultaneously. Hanging the shirt up as I pulled it out of the dryer, the damage became evident. At times in my life, I have been considered a laundry expert, specializing in baseball and football uniforms, but gum is out of my comfort zone. The next week, I asked Loa Glenn, our Westbury Christian School guidance counselor, if she could help and she volunteered to give it a shot. Loa was able to remove the gum but a stain, the size of a quarter, was embedded in the pocket. I tried again, using heavy doses of SHOUT! Stain Remover but it made no dent in the blemish. I gave up and the shirt has hibernated in my closet for the past eight months. Recently, I mentioned the shirt in my fifth period Life of Christ sophomore Bible class. Aryan, one of my students, spoke up. His family owns a dry cleaning business and he was sure they could remove it. Shortly thereafter, I gave the shirt to Aryan. Three days later, he returned the long sleeve, blue and white pin stripe Arrow shirt, size 15 1/2, 34-35. It was spotless. There was no trace of a stain. It was as if the shirt was brand new AND it was pressed as only professionals can press an article of clothing. It was like an early Christmas, a new shirt to wear to school....except it's only November.

Why couldn't I get the stain out and why couldn't Loa remove it? We tried and did our best. We had good intentions and we followed the accepted procedures. The problem was that we lacked the power. Aryan's family has at their disposal the proper chemicals and the ability to use them in the most effective manner. When Jesus, along with Peter-James-John, was returning from the Transfiguration, the remaining nine apostles found themselves unable to cast a demon out of a young man. The boy's father brought him to Jesus who rebuked the evil spirit and drove it out. The apostles seemed more perplexed about their inability than ecstatic that the life of the boy had been spared and asked why their attempts had been futile. Jesus replied, "This kind can only come out by prayer." (Mark 9:29) There is a limit to what we can do. Our efforts cannot take away the stain of sin in our life. One from above, one more powerful, had to be the cleansing agent to save us from the eternal stain on our souls:
"Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18)
The stain on my shirt is gone. It is as if had never been there. The stain of sin on my life is gone. It is as if it had never been there. I, and my long sleeve blue and white pin stripe Arrow shirt, size 15 1/2, 34-35, are clean. Praise the Lord...and thank you, Aryan!

Applicable quote of the day:
"Doubts are like stains on a shirt. I like shirts with stains because when I'm given a shirt that's too clean, one that's completely white, I immediately start having doubts."
Antonio Tabucchi

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Let Us Pray תנו לנו להתפלל

This is about Asher. He gave me a wristband which I gave to Dat in Vietnam and Dat loves it! This is from April 7, 2013.

Asher led us in prayer this morning but that really does not tell the story. In all my years of church services and worshiping, it was unlike any prayer in my remembrance. You see, Asher prayed in his native Hebrew language this Sunday in leading our congregation. Born and raised in Israel and a Christian for only two years, it was his first time in front of the church but not in front of our Father God. It was also the first time I've witnessed a prayer being introduced by the minister. David Yasko, our preacher for the English speaking part of our congregation, explained that he and Asher met for several hours on Thursday in preparation for his prayer. As English is his second language and he wanted his words to be perfectly accurate, they decided Asher would pray in Hebrew and the English translation would be on the screen behind him. David reminded us that Jesus admonished us to watch and pray so it would be acceptable to keep our eyes open as Asher spoke to Jehovah for all of us. And when Asher voiced his AMEN, I fought the overwhelming urge to applaud. Not because of the beauty of the words or the elegance of Asher, both of which were present, but because of a joy I felt in hearing God addressed in a language that our Savior Jesus Christ understood.

This may all seem silly to you but the fact that Hebrew is a Biblical language and I heard Asher pray using that tongue to me is simply amazing. I've had little direct contact with Jewish culture so there was a sense of awe for me. Compounding my reaction might have been that less than two weeks ago, I was part of a re-enactment of a Passover Seder hosted at our school by the family of one of our Jewish students. But I am also so touched by the careful nature in which Asher approached his obligation to all of us as he talked with our God. (And in reference to his English abilities, I would not have guessed Asher is not a native speaker.) The majority of my public prayers/lessons which are not at school are translated into Chinese during eleven months of the year and into Vietnamese during July. Sadly, I'm not nearly as cautious with what I say or how I say it as Asher was this morning. My classes have recently studied Jesus' parable of The Two Men At Prayer. We discussed how the Pharisee basically prayed about himself while never asking for anything or confessing anything, both components of what we refer to as The Lord's Prayer. On the other hand, the despised tax collector simply prayed, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Jesus concludes with the shocking statement that the tax collector was right before the Lord, not the noted religious leader. The words we use, and the heart from which they flow, matter according to Jesus. And as Asher returned to his pew, my mind drifted to the middle verse of one of my favorite hymns:

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer
The joy I feel, the bliss I share
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

It was a sweet hour of prayer for me this morning ..... and singing and listening and communing and fellow-shipping. Asher set the tone for me, for us. For the first time in my life, I wished that I could speak Hebrew and understand without relying on a screen and projected words. I would guess the Lord will settle for improvement in my prayer life in the one language I already know. One step at a time.

Applicable quote of the day:
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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Friday Night Lights (Of The World)

I don't know why but last evening it hit me how much I miss my favorite TV show, Friday Night Lights. Sometimes we get so caught up in fiction that we forget the real life characters in the orbits of our lives. This is from August 12, 2009. 

We were on our way back from Midland, Texas and the TCSA Conference on Saturday when we stopped for supper in Austin. Our administration lined up an all-you-can-eat buffet at Furr's Cafeteria.... and it was very good. Sometimes, the eating groups tend to break down by genders when we are together as a faculty and our table was all male and mostly coaches. At my end of the table, somehow the topic of Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly's romantic status was placed on the agenda. Most of you recognize Jeter as the shortstop for the New York Yankees. Less recognizable is Kelly who plays Lyla Garrity on NBC's Friday Night Lights, a very loose interpretation of the movie with the same name. As we debated the Jeter-Kelly affair, our talk turned to our favorite episodes and our favorite characters. Ben, Kevin, Russell, and I held an impromptu round table discussion on life in the most famous fictional high school in the Lone Star State. The new season will hopefully reveal the answers to the burning questions surrounding the Dillon Panthers.Will Tim Riggins go to college or stay and help brother Billy in their new business venture? Will Coach Eric Taylor find redemption at Dillon East after being fired from Dillon High? Can Matt Saracen enroll in art school in Chicago and leave his Alzheimer's stricken grandma to the care of others? Will Buddy Garrity's life keep imploding? Are University of Texas bound bad girl Tyra Collette and nerdy Landry Clark still an item?Who will run the ice cream joint with Smash Williams and Saracen out of the picture? Will Coach Taylor's wife, the principal at Dillon High, stay after her husband was unjustly terminated? Will quarterback prodigy J.D. McCoy have another physical altercation with his overbearing dad, resulting in another visit from CPS? You could tell we are understandably excited about the new season. Unfortunately, for those of us without cable, we will have to wait until January when FNL switches from DirecTV back to NBC. It will be an agonizing wait for me.

Friday Night Lights is still a relatively new show with only fifty episodes to its credit. Its fan base obviously extends to the Westbury Christian coaching staff....and there's nothing wrong with that. What I find ironic in my own life is how easy it is to engage in animated conversation about a television show and yet I never seem to have that same excited dialogue about the Lord. I am not sure why it is easier to find common ground in entertainment than in our walk with God. Even with other believers, we may struggle in knowing the depth of convictions or takes on the Christian life. I do know that I should be more concerned with the well-being of Ben Johnson, Kevin Bishop, and Russell Carr than I am about the Taylors, the Riggins, Smash Williams, etc. Fictional actors don't really exist and have no souls. The real life inhabitants of a Texas high school do and I don't have to wait until January for the next installment to get a pulse on where they are headed. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus admonished his followers to be lights of the world. Most high school football games are played in the darkness. Without the artificial lighting from which the show derives its name, the players would blindly collide with no sense of direction. Do you know how you find the football field in small towns on autumn weekends? You look for the lights. How do you think the world spots believers? That's one lesson that needs incorporating into my lesson plans on life.

Applicable quote of the day:
"The reason women don't play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public."
Phyllis Diller

God bless,

Luke 18:1
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