Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In the Wake of Katrina

Like a lot of other people, I've discovered that I'm just now starting to grasp the situation along the Gulf Coast.

I read in today's Wall Street Journal that the New Orleans Times-Picayune is determined to keep publishing, at least on the web. (You've got to admire these newspaper folks who don't let things like 9/11 and Katrina keep them from publishing. What spirit!). In fact, the Times-Picayune is inviting storm survivors and people on the scene to submit their reports as they're able. You can read the on-line edition here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Last night I went to bed imagining that Katrina wasn't so bad afterall. But this morning's news made me realize that, for millions of people, "Could've been worse" wouldn't be much of a consolation today.

Dee Andrews, an acquaintance from the blogosphere, is a resident of southern Louisiana. Her post from Sunday gives some perspective to the word "evacuation."


You are a good and powerful God. So today I ask you to give tender mercy to those people who need it the most. I trust that you will.

But even as I say that, Lord, I know that for each person in the headlines there are hundreds and thousands more, and in all parts of the world.

So until that future time that you have promised, help me to remember. Help me to remember that even though I have my little parcels of temporary paradise, what I and everyone and the whole planet really need is for you to come and make all things new.

Please do that soon, dear God.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Stranger Than Fiction

As you know, on Monday Pat Robertson said it would be a good idea for the United States to assassinate Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. Besides making "Geek of the Week" an easy pick, Robertson completely embarrassed Christianity and gave the unbelieving world another good excuse for staying away from the church.

The response from Jim Wallis that appears in "Sojourners" speaks for me.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Friday, August 19, 2005

Got a caption for this one? . . . It's from the Monday installment of V.B.S. I was sending the preschoolers as shepherds to look for the baby Jesus. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Oh, Yes! V.B.S.

We're having Vacation Bible School at the South Road Church of Christ this week. The first two days in the "Construction Zone," (building character with Jesus!) have exceeded my expectations, which were pretty high. (Photos soon).

I've been a part of Vacation Bible School almost every summer of my life. This is the 20th year that I've been a V.B.S. director. When I was a youth minister, there were some years that I'd direct for three weeks; one V.B.S. at home, then two on-the-road with my high-school juniors and seniors and some of those unsung heroes called youth sponsors. I'll never forget those trips.

I'm aware that some churches have decided that V.B.S. doesn't help them much to advance the mission of the congregation. In some cases, those churches actually have a V.B.S. of sorts. It's just that now, their "V.B.S." is a children's musical or some other sort of programming. In other cases, what Vacation Bible School used to do is no longer being done in any form.

Other churches seem to have maintained a V.B.S. routine, only on a small and often uninspiring scale.

Still other churches seem to have decided that pulling out all the stops and doing the biggest and best traditional all-week Vacation Bible School is a great use of their resources. That's where I am these days.

Either way, what's important is that the church should pay attention to children, not merely because Jesus said we are supposed to be childlike, but also because children are so very receptive and impressionable. I've seen a few senior citizens come to faith. But the overwhelming percentage of people who become Christians do so before they turn eighteen. With hardly an exception, as churches grow larger, they grow younger.

Clearly, children are important to the Lord. So they should be important to non-kids who want to be pleasing the Lord.

Dear God,

Thank you for this week of Vacation Bible School. Please help all of us, in the words of our theme song, to become just like Jesus.

Lord, thank you for the blessing of children and childhood. Please bless the efforts of people who want to see the youngest hearts turned toward you.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My family's trip to Oklahoma was a good one. The highlight was the celebration of my parents' golden wedding anniversary (photo in the previous post). We had it just after Sunday evening worship. Folks from church combined with other friends from the community to make it a memorable event.

One friend had recorded a special CD with music from the mid-1950s, the perfect background. Another long-time friend of ours scanned dozens of photos--beginning with the black-and-white wedding pictures--and created a terrific slide presentation. My sister snagged the best cake decorator in the southwest, one Veronica who knocked herself out. Such a nice time. Oh, and then there were Frank and Joy Bellizzi, who gave the moment its significance. My parents are great people.

It doesn't seem possible that my Mom and Dad have been married for 50 years. And I've only been around for 42 of those years. Anyway, here's to many more.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Micah 6:1-8 was the text for yesterday morning's sermon. Naturally, I zeroed in on the punch line in verse 8. Just an excerpt from the sermon. On the part about walking "humbly with your God" . . .

Humbleness or humility is a slippery sort of quality. Just about the time you're sure you have it, it's a sure thing you don't. In his book, "Wishful Thinking," Frederick Beuchner writes:

"Humility is often confused with the polite self-deprecation of sayng that you're not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well that you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship.

If you really aren't much of a bridge player, you're apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a low form of comedy.

True humility does not consist of thinking ill of yourself, but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do."

Well said. But it raises the question, How, then, does a person develop that pure form of being humble? I think the answer is found in the way that Micah issues the expectation. He doesn't say, "Walk humbly." He says, "Walk humbly with your God."

When people pen the history of architecture in the 20th century, one name that will come up many times is the name Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American architect. When he died in 1959, someone recalled something that Wright had once said, a statement that helps me understand the significance of the words, "with your God."

Wright said, "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change."

It seems that, for all of his talent, Frank Lloyd Wright failed to see that there was a third alternative. He didn't really have to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. Because whenever we acknowledge and live with the truth that all of our abilities and opportunities are gifts from God, then we know what the architect might have called "honest humility."

When we are authentically humble, it's not because we've successfully overlooked or downplayed our significance; it's because we have seen and appreciated our significance and immediately said, "Thank you, God."

Heavenly Father,

I am amazed at your majesty, and I thank you for great things you do all the time. I'm most grateful for that ultimate and miraculous condescension by which you came to us in Jesus.

Father, when I am close to you, I am humble. When I walk in your light, I know the joy that comes from your presence. So draw me near you and help me stay there, because really that's where I want to be all the time.

Father, for the times when I've wandered off, please forgive me. I don't understand it. So as it is with my other faults and sins, I'll depend on you to heal me and make me better. My confidence is that I know you can and will.

For I ask you in Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Bellizzis at my parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration, July 31st, 2005 Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lyle Schaller, You're the Best

I don't know Lyle Schaller. Never met him. But I wish I could have coffee with him at least once a week

Of all the writers I've come across in the church-dynamics-and-growth category, Schaller is the best. One of the few who's right up there with him is C. Kirk Hadaway. I've read at least parts of a couple of things he's written, and it all came across as well-researched and credible.

But I'm excited about Schaller right now because last week, at the Goodwill store in Altus, Oklahoma, I found a nice used copy of his book, "Looking in the Mirror: Self-Appraisal in the Local Church."

I hadn't seen this book since I returned the copy that belongs to the Harding Graduate library. That was 1990. The title was on a long list of books in the syllabus for a "Church Growth" class taught by Evertt Huffard the Younger. I skimmed the book at the time and had remembered it fondly ever since. But I didn't realize how terrific it is until this recent re-acquaintance.

To say the least, I think it's one of those must-reads for shepherds, preachers, church opinion leaders of various stripes, etc. Yes, a lot has changed on the church scene since the book first came out in 1984. But there's a lot more that hasn't changed, which is why this book's still a great read. The first chapter--about congregations of different size being radically different creatures--should be nominated for canonization or something.

So, if there's some aspect of "church" that you'd like to know more about, get your hands on the pertinent title by Lyle Schaller (there's probably at least one) and read.