Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO ADDRESS THIS?

Once again, a mid-40's man has gone off the deep end, and killed others.

And himself.

The picture on the right was the scene yesterday morning, outside one of UPS' facilities in the Birmingham area. Shortly before, an employee who had been recently terminated returned to the building, in his uniform, entered it, and shot & killed two people who seem to have been instrumental in his termination.

He then killed himself.

He was 45, married, the father of two children, and a loyal member of a local Baptist Church. Church members were "as surprised as anybody" when reports came in as to what he'd done. "He loved his family, he loved his girls, and he loved his church", a good friend said. "He had a servant heart".

First, let me say I am not a medical or psychological professional. Or any other professional, since I'm retired. But I know real well what I went through when I was 45, when things were going well for me, from all appearances. I'll tell you what I remember about my situation, and from a book I read at the time.

Neither do I know what his church did nor did not do in response to his plight, or the plight of middle-aged men in general. But see if it makes sense that what I'm going to describe might be what happened to the man who killed himself and 2 others, just yesterday.

First of all, men are driven by testosterone. It's what makes us hunter-killers. Think of the family going somewhere on vacation; mom wants to stop and smell the roses, but dad wants to keep on killing miles. And it spills over into all we do .. we want to win souls, and are disappointed by what we see as failure. We want to make sales and win arguments and win at card games and bowling and all the rest.

But the male body also produces a bit of estrogen, the female hormone. That's no problem until the production of testosterone declines seriously, generally by the early 40's.

It's like we "tip over an edge". Something changes. Winning no longer delivers the thrills it did. Making that next sale produces no internal "high". We sense something's wrong, and particularly for Christians, we think it shouldn't be so. We shouldn't be moody or depressed.

And we don't want to tell anybody, either, Don't want to ask for help, any more than we like asking for directions on a road trip.

It can also induce depression, when we feel changes we cannot describe.

Stress does a couple things, one of which can be to depress testosterone production. And if that produces depression in us, the depression in itself reduces the hormone production.

It becomes a self-feeding spiral. In my case, a change in management at my employer, and the knowledge that I was going to be a grandfather, pushed me over that "edge", bigtime. Sometimes I'd just lie with my head in Peg's lap, crying.

Until I found out what it was, by reading "Passages", by Gail Sheehy. Once I found out I was supposed to feel like I did, it robbed the feelings of all their power. I found out feelings could neither force me to, nor keep me from, doing anything.

That, and getting fired ... with 18 months' pay in one lump sum ... ended the ordeal.

It's called "male andropause". Look it up. See if it doesn't make sense that the shooter at UPS may have been driven by depression, and by feelings he couldn't explain. And ask yourself why his church, of which he was so loyal a member, didn't tell him all about this before he ran aground and ended 3 lives.

Perhaps they did. Perhaps his pastor had told the men of the church, or better yet the men and the women, what to expect at his age. But I know I've never heard any church broach this subject in over half a century of regular church participation.

Except to deny that the "mid-life crisis" was real.

Well, it is. It's time we dealt with it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

OK. I'm Done. Soapbox Put Away.

If you haven't read this Blog Post yet, please do so. The rest of this one is about what I did about that one.

Thank you.

It might also help if you read this one, too. It'll explain why I may seem, to some, to be sticking my nose into things where it's odd for a 76 year old "guy in a pew" to be doing so.

Now, if you've a mind to read even more, about what I've been up to lately, please proceed.

I got to thinking about the numbers I'd previously cited, and about why we of the SBC seem to be settling for mediocrity. Or worse. Folks around the area seem to hold FBC of Pelham in high regard, and even say really nice things about us, despite the fact that we've declined in attendance about 20% over the last 14 years. Which is also the time we've been in the nice new red brick building on the highway.

That is also the same time period in which Church of the Highlands, mentioned in one of those posts, has grown from zero to 20,000+.

As a result of my feeling of obligation to speak up when I see things, and having had a couple Experiences With God in past years, in which He made it plain He didn't show me things to sit down and be quiet, I decided I'd do what I could. Of course, that has involved teaching along these same lines, but that didn't seem enough. So I decided to plop myself down in front of the biggest voices I could get to in the SBC, and tell them in person.

As a little background, this all started with Jimmy Swaggart. Many years ago, when he "fell from grace", so to speak, I wrote him a personal letter. Had to go to the library to find a Baton Rouge phone book, but that was a small price to pay to follow through on my convictions. As you may recall, upon his confession of wrongdoing, the Assemblies of God put together a very prudent and Spiritually-sound program of repentance, reconciliation and restoration for him, and the church as a whole, to follow. Unfortunately, his response was to take the Family Worship Center out of the Assemblies of God, rather than submit to their program.

So I wrote him a personal letter. I told him that he would likely get a lot of letters saying something like "You show'em, by golly...", and an equal number of letters calling him dirty names, but I wanted to do neither. What I said was that the Bible said we were to show respect for those in authority over us, as they were put there for our good, but he and his church were not doing that. They were rebelling against authority, and I could forecast no good coming from his, and their, defiant actions.

I never heard back, of course, just as I never heard back from another well-known evangelist to whom I wrote a similar letter after what I thought a big offense on one of his radio broadcasts.

Well, I don't do those things to bring about change. I do them out of obedience, so I will know at least someone told them, and my hands can thus be clean in that respect.

So ... my little venture had me sitting in Dr. Frank Page's office six weeks ago this past Monday, and subsequently in Dr. Thom Rainer's office this past Monday. And I showed them the spreadsheets, and told them of the discipleship that goes on at Church of the Highlands, and reiterated that we can hardly be called disciple-makers for the 2/3 of our members who don't come to church. I must say I do not recall meeting with more gracious, genial people than those two men. In light of the advance time it took to get an appointment to see them, I know they're busy beyond anything I ever experienced in my career, and I was blessed beyond my ability to describe, by their spending time with me.

I also, locally, spent time with Rick Lance, who has a huge long title but is basically the Exec for the State Convention in Alabama. He was good enough to meet me at a local coffee shop here .. in fact, it's located in my subdivision here in Pelham ... and we spent about an hour and a half talking about these issues. I really appreciated the time with him.

I left word some weeks ago for Ronnie Floyd to call, as he was out of the office the day I called. To date, he's not returned my call. And it's OK ... I know he's busy like everybody else ... at least you folks that still work, for which I thank you as it's apparent you're the ones paying my Social Security ... and I'm finished with overt action on my little project, anyway.

And, with that, I am. I've had my say. If anything good comes from it, it'll have to be God Who does it.

Come to think of it, He's told us that's how it works in His service, anyway. That's sure good enough for me.
More, even.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Just Because I Remember It Fondly

Back in the infancy of the internet, when I was electronically prowling the chat rooms on Prodigy, one of the ladies I chatted with mentioned she had lost her husband and her brother in a relatively short period of time. Think weeks, not years.

I told her I wrote poems from time to time, and she asked if I could write one in memory of her brother. She told of their childhood in Orlando, and how he'd sneak into her room before sunrise, wake her up and sneak out to a nearby lake. There, he'd show her how the nocturnal animals would settle in for the daytime, and how the other animals would go about rousing up and feeding their young, etc. She said she had years of fond memories of those times, and looked forward to seeing him again in Heaven.

After pondering for a day or two, I finally caught some sort of inspiration and wrote the following poem. I'm posting it here only because I just now remembered it, with fondness, written at a time when people were just beginning to explore their new-found ability to reach out electronically to people half a world away.


WHEN MORNING'S BROKEN....

In the stillness of the birth of day
I'm led to watch .. I'm led to pray
I watch the sun disturb the still
And pray that God will make my will

Into his own, as I start once more
In the first day of forevermore
To serve a God who's done so much
Through friends and family, church and such

And a brother dear who's no longer near
To show me God and wipe my tear
Yet most of what he meant to me
Comes back to life whene'er I see

The robin tend her young in nest
And I realize God’s plan was best
Not only when the birds He feeds
But also when He tends my needs.

I realize that my heavenly home
Will know no night, yet as I roam
Earth's sod I cannot help but feel
That morning there is just as real

As when I sat with brother dear
And first felt God was real and near
But until I’m there, and mine eyes shall see
I'll hold his love most dear to me

And cling to love's most precious token
'Til, with him, I’ll see morning broken...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Most Seem to be Missing the Big Question.....

The news broke today that David Platt had been elected the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board ... better known as the IMB.

There's been quite a wave of support for him, as well as some retrospective objection based upon his church's previous participation in the Cooperative Program. By way of information, David is well familiar in this area, as his church .. the Church at Brook Hills .. is in the same county in which we are located. We've been by Brook Hills many, many times and have visited the church, as well.

He's been pastor there for a number of years, taking the helm when he was 25 years old. He was the youngest megachurch pastor in the nation, and did a remarkable job of leading and growing and preaching and healing, while there. I had friends involved in the church's founding, so kept up on it fairly well, and of course there was much notoriety surrounding the departure of the founding pastor.

David did his job well.

There's been some ink .. especially before the election, when it was surmised he was the leading candidate .. about the fact that Brook Hills contributed little to the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon offering, and causes of that sort. But as I've seen today, Brook Hills did an exceptional job of outreach both here, and around the world as well. They put their money where Dr. Platt's mouth was.

He did, personally, too.

So: regardless of the church's participation in the Cooperative Program and other designated offerings, the real question is this .. and in my mind only this:

Can he do the job?

Based on his performance at Brook Hills, I'd say he can. And, in fact, my personal opinion is that he can and likely will do the job better than anyone else they might have considered. In fact, I'd say one of the most telling things as respects that is the fact that he apparently thinks he can do the job. 

He wouldn't have taken it, otherwise. 

There are some jobs within the SBC that don't have the need for dynamic and forward-thinking leadership. Come to think of it, I don't think the president and vice-president positions carry the weight and the urgency and the responsibility that the IMB President's position does ... or for that matter, as does the head of NAMB or of any of our colleges and seminaries. Or even the local church.

I, for one, applaud the fortitude and the wisdom of the Trustees for selecting a man, not without the possibility of controversy, who's simply the best guy for the job.

 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Keeping The First Thing First?

It constantly surprises me that the SBC, collectively, doesn't seem to be able to keep the main thing the main thing.

What's the main thing? Making disciples.

Isn't that the "Great Commission"? To go into all the world and make disciples? And doesn't "disciple" mean student or learner?

Everyone seems to acknowledge that the majority of the 16,000,000+/- members, whom the SBC claims, aren't coming to church any more. But they don't seem to want to accept that as a failure to carry out the great commission.

Sure seems to me it is.

A couple of years ago, the Alabama Baptist ... our state Southern Baptist newspaper ... published a display of numbers for church membership and attendance, by county, for Alabama. There were many denominations included in the total, but they also set out the SBC's numbers separately. So ... it was really easy to enter the numbers for the 6 big population centers into a spreadsheet, let it subtract out the Baptists, show the percentage of membership represented by attendance, and then compare them. The results were most interesting.

According to my figures, in the million or so church members in those 6 areas, attendance for Baptists was 33.28%, whereas the other reporting denominations was 53.97%. And as if the numbers themselves weren't depressing enough, it should be mentioned that attendance includes visitors, and children too young to be members. Like infants and toddlers, and some other young'uns.

There's a lot of talk about programs to get people in. But I think it was the Internet Monk, some years ago, who said that's like owning a hospital that loses 2/3 of its patients and thinking the solution is to add more beds. Or maybe start more hospitals.

If our churches were businesses that collectively had 16 million employees, and only 1/3 of them showed up for work, the first thing that'd happen is heads would roll in the HR department. It'd be painfully obvious that they weren't doing their job in hiring the right people, and were also failing to train them once on the job.

It doesn't take a lot of grey matter to figure out what the church equivalent of that, is.  

There's a local church that you may have heard of, that's had pretty fair success at getting people in the door, keeping them coming back, and discipling them. It's the Church of the Highlands.

Get this:

  • After starting in January 2000 as a bible study in the pastor's home, they officially kicked off as a church the next month, February of 2000. A few hundred were there.
  • That same month, our church moved into its new building. We had attendance of 900-1000. And occasionally topped 1000 in the new building. 
  • In 2014, the Church of the Highlands has on the order of 20,000 members, 10 locations, and attendance of around 22,000. They have more members, and candidates for membership going through the introductory process, than they do absentees, apparently.
  • This year, our church is running 700-800 in attendance, and just went over 3000 enrollment in Sunday School. 

I am struck by those numbers. After looking over their material, it's obvious to me that the other church mentioned has been built upon, and continues to operate under, a system which puts people expressing an interest in membership, into a track to grow them into valuable servants of Jesus, in the local church. In fact, they call it their "Growth Track". Simply from looking at the results, and also from talking to members, the conclusion is obvious:

It works.

I have wondered for several  years why the SBC wouldn't address this. They do have some requirements for churches to participate in the SBC, but they have nothing to do with whether they are succeeding or failing at making disciples.

And lest you say that we have to make converts first before they can become disciples, check out Acts, Chapter 19. Paul tells of finding some disciples at Ephesus, who hadn't heard about the Holy Spirit. When they said they were baptized into John's baptism, Paul told them about the coming of Jesus and then baptized them, and something remarkable happened. So they were referred to as disciples before they heard of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, seemingly.

Look at it this way: Why would God want to send us more candidates for membership? Doesn't He know what our track record is? 

I think I know why nobody wants to broach the subject, though. To tell the SBC assembled that it's failed at making disciples is to tell a lot of pastors that they've got it wrong.

I don't blame anyone for not wanting, personally, to do that to several thousand messengers.

But I'm pretty convinced of one thing: if we don't fix that ... and I mean get some kind of system convention-wide, in which local churches verify new members' salvation, determine their Spiritual gifting, educate them as to the church and its operation, and get the members into an area of service corresponding to their interests and gifts, then we're never going to solve the percentages I mentioned.

Which make us look bad enough already.

Without even looking at trends over the past dozen years.

Friday, July 04, 2014

We Keep the Pictures. But We Throw Away the Scoresheets.

Peg and I have been married for a few months more than 55 years. That is a bit unusual, today ... perhaps because lots of folks don't get married so young and then live this long ... but regardless, we do seem to be somewhat of an exception to the norm.

That really stands out in light of the fact that we don't hang around old people very much. Peg has always had a burden to mentor younger ladies ... as the Bible instructs ... and I have always been drawn to younger married couples, and passing on all the things I've learned over the years, that they haven't seen yet.

You know .. the old bit about getting your good judgment from your experience, but your experience from your bad judgment.

Then there's the more recently-realized fact that Jesus came to make an abundant life available to us, and just like a devoted parent buying presents for his children, he wants us to want that abundant life. And, that comes from simply doing what He said to do. Being what He enables us to be. That seems evident to me in a brief passage in John 14 ... Jesus speaking ... in which He said:


  • Verse 21: "Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me"
And then again ... 

  • Verse 23: "Anyone who loves me will obey My teaching." 

It seems to me that obeying His commands is a matter of doing what He said to do, or not doing what He said not to do, but obeying His teachings seems more a matter of who we are and how we live and what our motivations are ... as pointed out in Proverbs 16:3.

Part of the abundant life is heeding all the instructions in the Bible about how to be married. How to live in a marriage of obedience to God.

One thing that comes to mind is that, every morning after breakfast, Peg and I play a game of Phase 10. It's a game with 10 dice, in which we score points by rolling various combinations, called "Phases". The scoresheets that came with the game were miniscule, not well suited to a hamhanded guy like yours truly, so our younger son Brad made us one in XCel. It features 8 scoring columns, so it's good for 4 games for Peg & me. 

Sometimes, one of us will win all 4 games on a sheet, other times a 3/1, 2/2, 1/3, or 0/4 split the other way.  It's a lot of fun. But when the 4th game is over, we always throw away the score sheet. 

See, it's not about who won or lost, but the joy of the company and the fun of playing (and sometimes the incredibly ironic things that can happen). 

That seems Biblical. 1 Corinthians 13 puts it as follows:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs."

We don't need no stinkin' records. We just need the fun of the company and the game.

We started taking photographs pretty early in our marriage. So we've got a lot of great memories captured permanently on film ... and in electrons. My "Pics" folder, and the Alaska Trip folder, contain 40,634 pictures. They are, almost without exceptions, representative of happy moments. You may have seen some of them on Facebook; I put some interesting or unique pictures up there, usually from some other area, now & then.

Here's an example, taken in April of 2000, leaning on a fence which was keeping us from falling into a 2000' ravine in the French Alps. That causes some folks to wonder if we're spending all our time, traveling, which we're not. I'm just dredging up old photos. And old happy memories. 

Can you see the wisdom in what God said? Keeping no record of wrongs? As the Apostle Paul told the Philippians:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable ... if anything is excellent or praiseworthy ... think about such things.

Paul sure knew what He was talking about. Which is why The Author included it in The Book.

So. Throw out the scorecards. And hang onto ... and look at ... those photos.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Elephants, Hot Tubs, and the Danger of Outliving Usefulness

There's a connection, I promise.

First, elephants: it's been stated that the way one eats an elephant is one bite at a time. I've used that analogy in the past, here, and it came to mind again, today.

We've had a hot tub on our back deck for perhaps 25 years. When my Mom was living with us, she was impressed by how much good Peg said she'd gotten from the hot tub at her sister's time share on Hilton Head (no, I never get to go....), and decided she'd get a hot tub and have it installed for Peg. My parents were always really bats about Peg, from the first time I ever introduced them, and Peg really went out of her way to make a home for her, here with us, after Dad died in 1988.

Above is a picture I took after we'd ripped off some of the case that the tub was sitting in. And when I took the picture, a couple things occurred to me; more on that subject later.

We enjoyed the tub for many years, but then it began breaking down now and then. The last time we had it fixed, it actually cost more than the tub had originally cost. So, the last time it quit working, and in light of the fact that we were getting older ... generally considered a good thing ... plus, it was getting harder to get in and out of the thing, we decided we wouldn't fix it. And that was perhaps 7 or 8 years ago.

We finally mentioned to our younger son Brad, that we were thinking of getting rid of it. The real problem with that was that the tub was a bit over 8' square, 4' tall, and sat on a screened-in deck with the largest opening being the screen door. Brad said that wouldn't stop him, by golly; he'd just come over, saw it up, and cart it off to the dump for us. And that's precisely what he and Connie, his bride, did last Tuesday.

That's a picture taken after removal of several of the elephant-bite-sized chunks of ex-hot-tub.

After it was all removed, we also took down the benches I'd built around it. As the outside of the walls around the tub have vertical cedar siding on the outside, and I didn't feel like ripping that out to install more screens, we took the wood from the benches and nailed it up .. along with a couple new boards .. to make a new wall. That formed a neat little protected area, into which we could now put our deck table and some chairs, for those occasional days when the temperature is conducive to eating out on the deck.

Here's the result:

I observed several shall we say philosophical truths as they were deconstructing and replacing the hot tub installation.


  • When something's outlived its usefulness, it can be quite a mess to get rid of.
  • Getting rid of it is apt to be a bigger job than starting it in the first place.
  • Getting rid of stuff may involve more people than starting it ever did.
  • Using materials and space and time more wisely can leave you a lot better off than you were, before.

That made removing the tub, which had outlived its usefulness, worthwhile. And that got me to thinking about other things. Like church.

I wonder how many things we do, how many procedures we follow, how many programs we have, that have outlived their usefulness.

And I was also reminded of a talk given some years ago by Paul Burleson, at a meeting we both attended. He talked about confusing form with function. When your forearm itches, you scratch it. With your other hand, usually involving fingernails. But if your hand is otherwise occupied, say holding something, you may rub the itch with your wrist, or you may rub your arm against a table or something.   

He tied that in with saying grace at a meal. We all have customs ... holding hands, and bowing, etc, or whatever ... but the objective is to thank God. And my most memorable case of saying grace was the following morning, when Paul and I had breakfast and toasted King Jesus with raised glasses of orange juice. And loud proclamations of the goodness of our Savior. 

I'll never forget that.

Perhaps it is, that churches start "programs" to deal with perceived problems and then carry them on, long after the need has passed. They continue to follow the "forms" they've established, when the function is no longer needed.

I heard once of a position in the Government service in Great Britain; the position was guard at the cliffs of Dover. Their sole responsibility was to watch for, and warn of, the approach of Napoleon's Navy.

The position was abolished, as I recall, in the 1950's.

Let's hope that our churches are filled with people in positions that are productive, and that the operations they see to will be abolished when no longer needed. Even if it's painful.

Needless to say, so should the SBC and its various entities, where the need and the results are obscure enough that we are forced to rely on the trustees to do what's wise, even if it means working themselves out of a job.

I don't think we need fear Napoleon's Navy any more.