Getting ready for Easter has been an annual experience in my life as far back as I can remember. Easter Sunday was always a special occasion at our house, and the preparations were thoughtful and meticulous.
It usually began weeks early as my mother would drag us to the clothing store to purchase our Easter clothes. In our family, you always wore your best clothes to church, but on Easter, we always had new attire. This was back in the time when a young boy was expected to wear a suit and tie, and I was no exception. Although I would never have admitted it, I was always a little proud of my new Easter suit.
Saturday evening before Easter Sunday was always an important time. That was when we colored Easter eggs. In our family, we did not use plastic eggs with candy inside – we only used the real thing. My mother would boil approximately two dozen grade A whites. Hot water and a touch of vinegar were poured into about five or six old coffee cups, and a small tablet of dye was dropped into the mix.
My sister and I worked hard at being creative with the way we colored the eggs. There was a touch of friendly competition to have the best-looking egg.
On Sunday, always after church, my parents would hide them in the yard, and the search was on. It never took a long time to find two dozen eggs in the familiar yard. Since we lived in Colorado, there were years when the ground was covered with snow on Easter Sunday. On those occasions, the eggs were strategically hidden in the house. This always raised the concern of not locating all the eggs because they would stink in a few days.
The family dinner was another Easter preparation. Since my father was the pastor of the church, it was not uncommon for us to have friends from the church to share the meal at our house. This was always great because it usually meant they would bring their eggs, and our hunting experience was intensified. However, my plan is not to talk to you about shopping for clothes, coloring eggs, or cooking a ham dinner. I am taking this occasion of Maundy Thursday to speak about making spiritual preparations for Easter.
Now, the first issue to be addressed is, what does the term Maundy Thursday mean? Very early in the history of the church, Christians began to regard Thursday of Holy Week as a particular time for participating in the Lord’s Supper. The day came to be called “Maundy Thursday,” a reference to Christ’s giving a “new commandment” (John 13:34) to His disciples. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word for “commandment.” Continue reading
Having been a student of the church for as long as I can remember, I feel qualified to make a simple observation about what is currently happening. My focus will be narrowed only to consider financial ramifications, a subject that I feel uniquely qualified to explore. At one time, any stewardship or finance material produced by the Southern Baptist Convention either had my name on it or was influenced by my DNA. I even received an award for being the “Stewardship Professional of the Year” by an independent organization. What I say might be wrong, but it’s not out of ignorance.
I believe the social distancing we are experiencing is going to bring about significant change to the American church. That is a bold statement, and in six months, you might throw it back in my face and accuse me of being an idiot. But for today, I’m sticking with it, so let me explain.
My prediction has nothing to do with church/state matters of whether or not we should allow the government to dictate our religious practices. Also, it has nothing to do with reckless pastors encouraging their people to congregate and trust God. My prediction is all about money.
One of the primary things I learned from working with hundreds of churches is that the most significant determiner of church income is attendance. Obviously, larger churches have more money than smaller churches. However, even within the same church, high weekly attendance will produce larger offerings than a Sunday with low attendance. We don’t see it much in the warmer climate of Texas, but churches in areas where they have to cancel because of bad weather know this to be true. It takes a long time to make up for the offering that is missed when a Sunday morning service is canceled. Continue reading
This is the introductory chapter to my latest book, My Two Fathers: Things My Earthly Father Taught Me About My Heavenly Father. You can only purchase a copy at this location – www.my2fathers.com.
I’m not sure I can separate my earliest memories of my father from my earliest memories of God. For most of my life, they were the same.
That might sound shocking to some, and I expect to be questioned by a few people for making that statement, so I probably need to explain. When most Christians envision God, they conjure up an image of Jesus only bigger and more (more of what I’m not sure). We’ve all heard that Jesus was God embodied within a man; He was God in the flesh. It stands to reason that God must look something like Jesus, only older since Jesus referred to God as His father. That’s probably why many people’s image of God is an old man, kind of like George Burns in the movie, “Oh, God.”
If you want to be more politically correct, you will come up with Morgan Freeman from “Bruce Almighty” or Whoopie Goldberg in “A Little Bit of Heaven.” When I was a young kid, we didn’t go to the movies or watch TV, so I didn’t have any help with understanding God and what He might be like other than what I was told and saw with my own eyes. Kind of like a baby kitten adopted by a mama dog, I grew up thinking God was like the one who cared for me and provided my needs.
That might be a good enough explanation for the first four or five years of my life, but there had to have been a time when I finally wised up and realized my father was nothing like God. Once I read enough of the Bible and understood the true qualities of God, I would cast aside such childish thinking—but I never did.
As I near completion of the seventh decade of my life, my declaration is the same—the person who taught me the most about God is my father. Every experience I’ve had with God has been seen through a lens of what my father taught or showed by his life. That doesn’t mean my understanding of God is warped. I hope to show you throughout this book that my earthly father provided a thorough and healthy view of my heavenly father. Continue reading
If you know anything about me at all, you know I’m a baseball fan. A quick peek into my office will convince you if you have any doubts. On top of that, my favorite team is the Texas Rangers, my hometown boys. That means I can’t be a fan of the Houston Astros. One of my favorite things to do when the Rangers and Astros play one another is to watch the game with the picture-in-picture mode. I put the Rangers’ broadcast and Astros’ broadcast side-by-side in order to hear how both sides describe the same events.
Consequently, I focused significant attention on the stories the past few days about the Astros’ cheating scandal. In case you’re not a baseball fan and haven’t paid any attention, here’s my one-sentence recap. In 2017, on their way to winning the World Series, the Astros illegally used video equipment to steal opponent’s signals to gain an advantage for their hitters in real-time while batting.
Rumors were rampant, but when a whistleblower, a pitcher and former Astro on the 2017 championship team, made it clear that cheating did happen. In the baseball world, all hell broke loose. Three managers and one general manager lost their jobs. They were singled out because they should have been in charge but chose to turn a blind eye. (No players were identified or punished for reasons beyond the scope of this article.)
You have to give Major League Baseball credit for putting a stop to such blatant cheating. Now, I understand, a certain type of cheating has been a part of baseball since the beginning, but this is a new level – using electronics in real-time. You know league officials would rather not have to call people out for cheating. It was difficult to investigate, learn unfortunate facts, and punish people—but for the sake of the game, it had to be done. Continue reading
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing people support a political candidate based on one issue – abortion.
I’m going to suggest three reasons why it’s a problem to make abortion the one and only campaign issue.
People who chose to use the term “pro-life” rather than abortion, are not being honest – with themselves or with anyone else. If you are truly “pro-life,” then you would equally oppose capital punishment, war, and indiscriminate gun ownership. These are all pro-life issues. I don’t know of anyone in the pro-life movement who believes abortion, capital punishment, and war should be eliminated and guns severely restricted. They are not really pro-life.
If you honestly want to be pro-life, then continue to advocate for eliminating abortion but also stand up against capital punishment, identify as a conscientious objector, and advocate for stricter gun control laws. If you want to be especially serious about pro-life, then you should also work to eliminate poverty, demand health care for everyone, and do what you can to stop climate change. In fact, to be pro-life, the list is almost endless – drive the speed limit and follow all safety laws, speak out against the tobacco industry, seek out ways to help people fight obesity, stop posting hateful messages on social media, demand fair treatment of immigrants and people of all races.
My second reason is that being a one-issue political supporter is dumb. You are essentially saying that nothing else matters. “Take us to war, eliminate Social Security, be immoral and dishonest, raise taxes, ignore every other problem because I don’t care as long as you claim to be anti-abortion, you have my vote.”
It sounds ridiculous when you put it like that, but it’s precisely what has happened. We have countless officeholders who have nothing to offer except a claim to be against abortion. We have politicians in place who know they are safe and can do whatever they want because they were elected because of one position and they know you will vote for them regardless of anything else they do. Continue reading
At the top of my Facebook newsfeed this morning was one of those reminders of something posted on this date in the past. The one for today went back ten years to New Year’s Day, 2010. Most of these reminders are interesting, but this one especially caught my attention.
Ten years ago I was in the hospital. If I said I was hanging onto life by a thread, it would sound overly dramatic but it’s true. After spending nearly two weeks in the hospital, these are the words I posted on Facebook that will probably show up under my memories sometime later this month.
“After twelve days in the hospital, I am finally at home – feeling well, weak, and grateful. I have spent the past few hours reading your messages, wiping away tears, and amazed at what happened. This is my report to my family and friends, who I discovered in greater legion than I anticipated.
No one should really care about all the messy details, but just let me say, I was lying in a hospital bed, diagnosed with CHF, being told that my kidneys might have already applied for retirement, and my doctors decided the best course of action was to insert about twelve feet of Goodyear bicycle inner tube down my throat in order to help me breathe.
A time when my family felt most helpless (not quite hopeless). My own feelings of hopelessness did not really matter because I was too far away mentally to understand either hope or hopeless. Nearly three full days of the experience have been expunged from my memory with the precision of a Hoover. We were desperate for God to do something.
Although I was only semi-conscious during the worst part of the ordeal, I still had my own low point. It was when I was aroused enough to recognize portions of the experience and I remember staring at the off-white sheetrock wall of my hospital room, containing nothing more than a red light switch and an orange decorated hazmat storage box. At that moment, I honestly believed that I had died and gone to heaven. However, the encumbrance of the ventilator and the uncomfortableness of the entire situation caused me great disappointment – I had higher expectations of heaven. We all needed God to do something.
The doctor called the house early on Monday morning to speak with Sharon. He asked if we had a “Living Will.” That kind of question in that particular scenario grabs your attention. He explained how the lung problem was leading to a kidney problem, and the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone, and that inserting the tube was the best (or perhaps only) solution. I don’t think any of us felt desperate, but this is one of those sandy places in life where you do not want to erect a foundation.
Then a miracle happened!
The ventilator was inserted, and the vigil begun to see what God would do. And, God did not disappoint anyone. It was an amazing week of answered prayer, physical feats, and unmistakable encounters. I will not even attempt to explain what happened in this short thanksgiving missive but let me encourage you to stay tuned. The book has already been titled and outlined.
As I said earlier, I am home gaining strength. I would love to speak to each of you individually, but there were so many friends and family prayer warriors that the number is inestimable. There must have been at least fifty people on the hospital staff that came by my bed to complement me on my wonderful family. I felt like a preacher at the conclusion of an especially good sermon having to accept all the accolades. If the sermon was really that good, then you need to give God the credit. I kept saying to these complementors, “God has really blessed my life.”
You are one of those who have been used by God to bless my life. Thank you.
I hope you will allow me to share the “rest of the story” over the next few months. I am coming off one of the lowest and one of the highest times of my life at the same time. Through your prayers and support, you allowed me to see a miracle – an amazing sight.”
So, when I saw this today, it caused me to reflect on the past ten years, a complete decade of my life has passed since this happened. I have long considered this borrowed time anyway, but it has proven to be much more. I had polio as a very young boy. I remember calculating that since I was born in 1950, by the year 2000, I would be 50 years old and that’s all I ever expected from my weak body. I’m highly pleased for the extra 20 years and certainly would not object to another 20. But much has happened in the past ten, since my hospital ordeal.
The following is the list of major events in my life since the calendar has read twenty-teens.
- The greatest man I ever knew or will ever know, my father, died. He taught me everything I needed to know about living.
- I changed occupations, from church consultation to writer and book publisher. In 10 years, I have been able to build a business that pays the bills and keeps me challenged and growing.
- After more than 40 years and probably close to a half-a-million miles, I gave up driving. The last drive was a Sunday trip to preach at a small church west of town. I no longer felt comfortable that I had enough strength in my arms to control the car. When I arrived at home, I told Sharon that I was done. (Sharon will tell you that I still have much to learn about being a “back-seat-driver.”)
- My son Matthew married in one of the most fun weddings I have attended. It was a great evening, and he hit the jackpot with Tina.
- We picked up nine grandkids to add to our first, Noah, who is now in college.
- Our youngest son Andrew was deployed by the Army to Afghanistan. I checked for casualty reports every day for nine months and finally rested when he came back home to his family.
- After visiting nearly every church within a reasonable distance from our house, Sharon and I decided to leave the institutional church with the conviction that there must be a better way. Along those same lines, I no longer identify myself as an “evangelical,” not because my theology or behavior has changed, but because the word doesn’t mean much any longer.
- Sharon and I celebrated our 40th and 45th anniversary during the past decade.
I hope this post greets me first thing in the morning on January 1, 2030. I’ll be 79 years old, hopefully married 55 plus years and reminiscing about a long list of great things once again. It’s in God’s hands and if He chooses something else, I’m good with that also.
I mentioned that my father taught me everything I needed to know about life. One of his most frequent lessons occurred when I talked to him about a problem. His solution was always the same and it has always worked. I don’t see any reason to change his advice. No matter what problem I encountered, he always told me to “trust the Lord!” He always did, and I try hard to follow his example.
There’s an interesting trend in churches today that is designed to help struggling families pay their medical debt. You’ve probably seen the headlines—a church in Kansas eliminated $2.2 million, another in Illinois covered $4 million. Even a small church in Maryland paid off $1.9 million. It’s a movement that is picking up steam.
This is a good thing. Helping the poor should be a primary mission of the church. For most of my life, it has been a back-burner concern for the church, so it’s nice to see it given the attention it deserves. Or is it? What is this all about.
When a person has medical debts they can’t pay, they are cycled through a series of collection agencies. When a collector is unsuccessful, they will sell the debt to another collector at a reduced rate. This might happen a half a dozen times before it is finally considered a lost cause. All of this is after the original creditor has written off the amount as a loss.
All the while, the person who owes the debt must deal with harassing phone calls, angry letters, and threats to sue. As you can imagine, their credit is trashed as delinquencies are added to their report each month. By the time the collectors give up, the debtor has ruined credit and lost hope of ever paying it off.
Along comes one final attempt. An enterprising company swoops up the unpaid notes by paying pennies on the dollar. They then bundle it up and sell it in huge chunks. If you want to cancel a person’s debt, give this company $100, and they will wipe out a $10,000 note. In other words, the debts are being settled for 1% of the debt. I’m not sure, but I suspect the debt was reduced substantially before being sold off, so the reality is that it is far less than 1%.
Churches realize they can “help” hundreds of families by paying off millions of dollars in debt with a small amount of money. For every $10,000 raised, they can wipe out $1 million of debt. It sounds like a win/win. Everybody should be happy.
There are winners in this scenario. The companies that organize this whole thing are probably the biggest winner (check out www.ripmedicaldebt.org). The church garners great publicity and members feel good about themselves. Perhaps even the debtor might feel better getting rid of an albatross that was given up for dead years ago.
However, if the church really wants to help the poor, there is a much better way. The first and most obvious suggestion I could make is to stop fighting against every effort to make health care affordable. In case you don’t understand what I’m saying, you Republicans need to come up with a health care plan that benefits the poor instead of stonewalling every effort made by others. Many of you are in the church, so you should understand God’s concern for the poor.
A second suggestion is to assist the poor before their credit is trashed, and they are beaten down by collectors. Latch on to these folks when they leave the hospital, not after they’ve been struggling for years to pay the debts. Help them when your help is still valuable. It might not be as flashy, and it certainly won’t show up in newspaper headlines, but it will be more practical and helpful.
A third idea is to not give your money to an organization that is buying up this debt and selling it for a substantial profit but give the money directly to the people who need it. The Rip Medical Debt folks have a debt elimination counter on their website that is moving faster than the federal debt counter. I’m not an accountant, but the best I can tell by looking at their 2018 tax report, they purchased approximately $2.3 million of debt and raised $5.4 million in contributions. There’s money to be made somewhere in this.
I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing; it’s just not the best thing. It is encouraging to hear about churches expressing concern for the poor, but let’s make sure that it is true concern for the poor and not just a publicity stunt.
I hope we can all agree with the following statement: It is not a good thing for foreign governments or entities to be involved with our elections. If you disagree with that statement, it’s best that you move on because this article has nothing of value for you.
Essentially, what I’m saying is that we don’t want the Russians, Koreans, Chinese, Ukrainians, Swahilis, or any other non-American citizen influencing the outcome of our voting. We want to elect our own people—thank you!
Therefore, to invite or encourage a foreign government or entity to become involved in our elections is also a bad thing. President Trump has, by his own admission and according to our own eyes and ears, done that. During his campaign, we all heard him invite the Russians to “find Hillary’s emails.” He was clear during a TV interview when asked directly and confirmed he would accept foreign interference. We all read the transcript of his phone conversation with the Ukrainian president and asked him to investigate Joe Biden. We also listened over the roar of the helicopter as he encouraged the Chinese also to investigate Biden. There is no doubt Trump sought foreign interference in our election. His supporters don’t even dispute this fact. He did!
Now, here’s the point of the entire article. Pay attention to what I say next. If Trump is not impeached for what he has already done, what is to keep him from doing the same thing on a larger scale? Continue reading
I was a fervent lover of baseball as a kid. Growing up in Colorado meant we had no access to Major League Baseball games, so I never attended a game until many years later. The nearest team was in St. Louis, and I can remember listening to games at night on a transistor radio. It wasn’t always a clear signal, but through the static, I could usually pick up KMOX, and they broadcast the Cardinals’ games. Normally, I hid under a blanket because it was past bedtime and if my mother heard the radio, she would make me turn it off.
You might think I cheered for the Red Birds, and I did like Stan Musial, but for some reason, I was a die-hard Yankee fan. Like half the boys in my generation, my hero was Mickey Mantle. In 1962, when my brother was born, I lobbied hard for my parents to name him Mickey Roger Austin because of the epic home run duel Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were involved with the previous summer. My efforts were in vain, and my brother carries the name Steve Austin (not the famous one).
I loved everything about Mickey Mantle. One of the first things I did every morning was tear through the sports page and find the box scores just to see how he did the day before. I never saw him play except for the occasional Saturday Game of the Week when the Yankees happened to play. I knew everything a 12-year-old boy could know about someone back in those pre-Internet times.
Many years later, I learned the Mickey had an alcohol problem and that he liked to party, getting by on the verge of constantly being disciplined by the team. I didn’t know that, and I might not have believed it at the time. He was my hero. By the way, heroes will always disappoint us.
I have had other heroes over the years.
When I was a pastor far away from colleagues and libraries, I stumbled across a radio program called “Grace to You.” I loved the music at the beginning and end of the program— “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” I still catch myself singing it at times. The heart of the program was the preaching of John MacArthur, and for a young preacher thirsting for good Bible study, he was a life saver. I bought his books, followed his notes, used his material for my own sermon research. If I’m going to be totally honest, I’m sure I even preached a few of his sermons. He wasn’t a great preacher, but I thought he was an amazing teacher. He was a hero for me. Continue reading