Special thanks to NASA for allowing me to use this photo taken by the Hubble telescope.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veterans Day Sermon - What is a Patriot?

What is a PATRIOT?

Introduction:  What do you think of when you hear the word, Patriot?  Some will think of the football team that won the Super Bowl.  Others will think of colors: red, white, and blue or of flags waving in the breeze.  You might be thinking back in American History of men like George Washington, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, and the list could on and on.  The dictionary tells me a patriot is one who loves, supports, and defends one's country.  The thesaurus tells me a patriot is a good citizen, a loyalist, a nationalist, a statesman, a countryman, or a volunteer.  A patriot is one of those words that is hard to define, but when you seen one, you know it.
I would like all of our military men and women to stand today.  If you have ever served the United States of America in any branch of the armed forces, please stand.  Thank you.  On behalf of my family and on behalf of the Irving Baptist Church, we say, “Thank you!”.  You are patriots.  Many of you who stood have fought for this country.  You have sacrificed; your families have sacrificed; we owe each of you an debt of gratitude.
My brother asked me to do him a favor a few years ago.  I didn’t mind doing the favor for him at all, but the favor turned out to take longer than I expected it to.  Have you ever told someone you do something for them, and it took longer than you thought?  Well, I caught myself telling Sandi that he was really going to owe me for this one.  Then it hit me!  He just spent a year in Iraq for me.  I can’t tell him he owes me anything!  I’m never going to be able to tell him, “You owe me one!”.

What is a patriot?

I.  A patriot is Passionate.
John 2:15-17  And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up..
This is the trait of Zeal.
A.  Passion is missing from American Christianity today.
B.  The reason so many young people today don’t love God and country today is because their parents are not passionate about God and country.
C.  Everyone is passionate about something.
1.  Matthew 6:21  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
2.  If you want to know where your passion is; ask yourself, “What do I treasure?”

II.  A patriot is Available to serve.
Isaiah 6:8  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
This is the trait of Humility.
Being humble doesn’t mean you’re a little person; it just means you recognize that there is something or Someone a whole lot bigger than you.
A.  What have you done with your time?
1.  I believe that is the question God asks each of us.  “What…?”
2.  Are you too busy to be available to serve your country.
3.  “I wanted to vote this year, but I had some errands to run!”
4.  “It was raining and I didn’t want to get out!”
B.  The voice of the Lord is speaking to you this morning.  It is saying, “Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”
1.  Are you too busy?
2.  Are you too proud?
3.  Or are available like the prophet Isaiah and responding to God, “Here am I, send me.”

III.  A patriot is Trustworthy.
Daniel 6:4  Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.
This is the trait of Faithfulness.
A.  Daniel was faithful.
1.  To His God.
2.  To His country.
3.  Daniel was a POW.
B.  Daniel could be trusted.
1.  Trusted by God
2.  Trusted by his friends and neighbors
3.  Trusted by the king (i.e. government)

IV.  A patriot is Ready to defend.
Nehemiah 4:16-18  And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.  
This is the trait of Preparedness
A.  Are you prepared to defend what you believe.
B.  The key to victory in almost any conflict is preparation.
C.  Why did it only take our troops 51 days to win the war in Iraq?  preparation.
D.  Why did the Rangers make it to the World Series?  preparation

V.  A patriot is an Idealist.
Mark 1:22  And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
This is the trait of Conviction.
A.  Romans 14:5  One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
B.  Patriots know what they believe and why they believe it.
C.  They have ideals and convictions from which they will not budge.
D.  Ephesians 4:14  That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive…

VI.  A patriot is Optimistic.
2 Chronicles 25:11  And Amaziah strengthened himself, and led forth his people, and went to the valley of salt, and smote of the children of Seir ten thousand.
This is the trait of Hope.
A.  Romans 8:24-25  For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
B.  It is hard to keep fighting, when you have no hope.
C.  Strengthen yourself with hope.

VII.  A patriot is Totally committed.
Matthew 19:29  And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
Mark 12:33  And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. This is the trait of Devotion

Conclusion: Serving the United States of America is great privilege.  We as free Americans owe a huge debt for blood spilled to obtain and keep our freedom.  I love my country.  I love the Red, White, and Blue!  If the day ever comes where I have take up arms to fight for her, I will.  Even if I’m old—I’d fight for my country.
As great as the United States is, it will not last forever.  You see, I am a citizen of another country.
Hebrews 11:13-16  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
I too desire a better country!  This better country is a great Kingdom with a almighty King!  I’m glad I live in a democracy, but one day I’ll live in a monarchy with Jesus as my King.  I’m glad I live in a country where I can vote, but one day we will have a government with no more elections.  Isaiah 9:6  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  It will no longer be thus sayeth the polls, but thus sayeth the Lord.  I’m glad I have freedom of religion, but one day I’ll I will live in a country with a state religion – “One nation under God” will be a reality once and for all.
Are you a patriot?  Are you a patriot for the Kingdom of Jesus?

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Truth Rolls

I was out of town on business, just passing through this small town when I was struck with an urge to go bowling.  When was the last time I threw the old 16 pounder?  It had been months, but it was for occasions such as this that I always take the old fashioned solid black orb with me on trips.  After locating an alley using the GPS system in the rental car, I quickly found myself standing in the strangest bowling establishment I had ever seen.

The place looked like a bowling alley, smelled like a bowling alley (not always a good thing), but it didn't sound like one and it did not take me long to discover why.  The clerk at the front desk looked at me sort of sideways as I paid for my lane rental; actually, he was looking at my bag. Weirdo!

I settled into my lane and since the place wasn't full there were several lanes between me and the nearest bowlers.  After a few mild stretches, I pulled "Blane" out of it's bag.  I didn't name the ball; it had the monogram on it from the previous owner.  Bowlers are very sentimental.  In this alley; however, bowlers were just mental!

The elusive 300 was calling me.  I could feel it in my bones.  The lane was a little scratched up and didn't appear to be oiled properly; but I was prepared for that and would not be discouraged.  These lanes were gonna be cheesy cakes.  After polishing Blane  up a bit in order to get my patented snap curve to effectively crush the pocket, I approached the pins.

The pins were just asking to be knocked over; I could hear them mocking me.  For a split second, I thought I actually heard someone mocking me.  Focusing, the pins stood no chance.  Blane rolled triumphantly down the right side of the lane, when at the last second he broke hard left.  Now the place sounded like a bowling alley!  I pumped my fist into the air with pride waiting for the big red X.  Sneaking a peek to determine if there were any witnesses; I was temporarily satisfied to spy a few.  They had a odd look of disbelief; almost as if they'd never seen a strike before.

"Must be my ball", I thought.  The old solid rubber sphere often caught a few folks off guard when it worked this effectively.  Not many can throw the antiques with such accuracy.  I could never see myself with a glossy colorful acrylic ball.  Imagine Knute Rockne with a face guard and giant padded plastic helmet or Bobby Hull even wearing a helmet.  You never heard a "plink" coming from Sam Snead's driver.  No, I was old fashioned, old school, backwards, or whatever label you wanted to pin on the guy refusing to upgrade to the latest and greatest.  I was also wrong.  The dumb-founded looks I received were about my ball, but not because it was rubber or because it was black or because it was old.  The small crowd now making me feel extremely uncomfortable could not believe I was using a ball that was round.

You read that last part correctly.

At first I did not notice, but now it became clear that a few of the folks were holding bowling balls that were not balls at all.

Fred was the first one to break the silence.  "What do you call that?" he said pointing his pudgy finger at Blane.  Holding Blane as if it were my firstborn; I didn't know how to respond.

Before I could muster a response, a rough-looking woman wearing jeans that would make proper bowling form an impossibility spoke up.  "Aw Fred, can't you see he's a newbie."

I tried to lighten the mood, "Haven't you ever seen a cranker before?  haha uuuh"  No clue.

"Fred, show him how it's done around here." one of the older patrons demanded.

Fred approached my lane with the coolest box I had ever seen!  Wow! "What have you got in there!" I asked.  No reply came; just a muffled snort from the massive man.  I watched in amazement as Fred took a polishing rag and rubbed that bright blue box to a perfect shine.  An odd-looking pair of young fellows in matching orange shirts snuck about half-way down the lane on each side to get a better view of what was about to transpire.

What is in that box?  It was driving me mad.  Then Fred approached the lane still holding the box. His fingers were in it!  That box had holes in it like a bowling ball.  Fred rumbled down the approach like a walrus heading into the ocean.  I almost screamed out in fear at the site.  The release was similar to mine; but with twice as much wrist action.  That delivery would have sent my ball exiting stage left into the gutter within 30 feet.

That box tumbled and bounded down the lane, sliding to almost a complete halt about three quarters of the way down.  "No one could expect that thing to make it all the way down there to the pins!"  I said; thankfully, just to myself.

As the perfectly square blue box was about to stop on the left side; one of the orange men picked it up and flung it the last 20 feet knocking over five pins.

"That's the third strike your incompetence has cost me today!" yelled Fred.  The young fella hung his head in shame.  The other twin disappeared down the far side of the alley and re-emerged with the same blue cube huffing and puffing it all the way delivering it carefully to Fred.

Fred repeated the effort, but this time it was Thing 2 that completed the mission by tossing the box against the remaining pins.  The place erupted into applause as Fred had scored the strangest spare I had ever seen. Unfortunately, the score tallied on my sheet and ruined my chance at a perfect game (not that I really had much of one in the first place).

The small crowd seemed content that their point was made.  I was flabbergasted.  Do I go back to bowling? Put Blane up and head out?  I started looking for hidden cameras, but didn't see any.

"Um, that was a good pick up, Fred." I meekly stated to the local bowling hero.

"That is how it's done, stranger." Fred retorted implying I should follow suit.

I'm ashamed to tell you what I did next.  I spotted a few of those three-holed cubes, where the house balls would normally be kept.  These were not as shiny as Fred's, but I managed to find one that my fingers could hold. It was awkward to say the least, but I thought, "When in Rome...".

"Here goes nothing." I thought and that was exactly what was coming.  My dull fuchsia box stood no chance of reaching the - I don't know what to call them - guys on the sides of the lane.  It bounced and pounded the narrow planks violently as it slid into the gutter about a third of the way down.  Muffled coughs and a few giggles.

My second throw was even weaker as something snapped in my right throwing shoulder. Left-side gutter boy tossed the box as far as he could, but it bounced into the next lane sending his partner diving onto the oily floor out of the way.

Being laughed at is never a good time.  I learned long ago that it was easier to just go along with it.  A half-hearted laugh was stopped short thanks to the sharp pain I felt in my shoulder.  The box just wasn't designed to be thrown like a ball.

A diet soda was in order only because I didn't drink anything stronger.  Thing #1 joined me climbing onto the barstool with his wiry frame.  His beer was bigger than his head.  "Sorry about that, I usually throw better than that. My name is Sid, by the way."  "Nice to meet you, Sid. Don't sweat it." Maybe Sid could help me figure out what was going on in this place.

"Why don't they use traditional bowling balls here?" was my first attempt.  All I got was a frothy "Huh?".  "Why do the folks bowl with cubes here?"  "What else are you gonna bowl with?" was his reply.  "I've worked in this alley for 25 years (I could have sworn he wasn't a day over 30!) and I ain't never seen anyone come in here and sling a giant marble down our lanes like you did tonight.  That was the dumbest stunt I've ever seen."

Her name tag read "Jez Bell" on it and that didn't surprise me one bit.  "Do you want a refill before you finish your game?  I hope you are not thinking of using that creepy ball again.  This is a family friendly establishment and I'm sure it's bound to offend some of our customers."

I was at a tipping point and couldn't help but respond with the obvious, "Why would a bowling ball offend anyone in a bowling alley?"  Sid jumped off and glared at me pointing down at my bag.  "I don't care what you call that thing!  It don't belong in here!."

Just when I thought Sid was going to hyperventilate, a tall man puffing a giant cigar entered to my right.   "The name is Charles, sir, and I own this bowling alley." "Howdy" was my reply as I slipped into my native Texan vernacular.  "Folks around here call me CD.  I used to be a disc jockey and the nickname stuck.  Would you mind if I had a word with you in private."  CD's cigar had to go; I was about to suffocate.  I felt I was riding in a convertible stuck in traffic behind a old diesel truck.

CD continued, "I bought this alley 30 years ago.  I brought bowling to this town. Used to be a professional bowler myself; I taught everyone here how to bowl from the time they were old enough to pick up a 6 pound cube."  "If you are a professional, then why the cubes?" I interrupted.  CD was visibly upset.  His cheek twitched as he dropped his cigar on the carpet grinding it into the thick shag with his snake skin boots.  A couple of sideways glances and then he responded just a tick above a whisper in a pitch higher than he used before.  "What else would we use?"  "I taught these people everything they know about bowling and I will not have you or anyone else coming in here and causing trouble."  His voice descending in pitch and ascending in volume as he spoke.

By now Fred and a few others had strolled up next to CD; the few others were carrying pool sticks.  Sweat beads formed on my forehead.  "Can I see your ball, mister?"  The childlike voice came from a girl I hadn't noticed before; she couldn't be older than 14.  Sid quickly tried to corral her away, but she slipped under his reach.  "Girl, you git back to work!" He snapped.  "Daddy, I just wanted to look at the ball! Did you see what he did with it?  It even came back to him, without you having to fetch it."

"Sid, can you control your daughter and take her home before I have to fire her and you." CD growled.  "Yesir! We're going now, Katy! Get your stuff."  And I watched in silence as the last hint of intelligent life was dragged by her father out of the building.

"She's got a few points there you all might consider!"  I tried to keep it light-hearted and appeal to reason.  "This sport was designed with a ball in mind, the ball-retriever, the lanes, and..." Thwack!

As I came to, nearly choking to death on CD's cigar smoke, I was disappointed to realize I was not dreaming.  That would have been such a welcome relief.

"You caused quite a stir here tonight!" The man said leaning over my face from his seated position.  "Let me help you up. Do you pass out like that very often?" he said in such a pleasant manner.  "Um, no, not that I can remember."  I wasn't about to press the issue as I felt for the knot on my skull.

"Well we are closed, and here is your bag. I trust you will be leaving town tonight?"  Was that a question?  "Yep, I'm just passing through."

"If you come this way again, I trust you will not be bringing this with you." as he handed me my bowling bag.  "Not sure when I'll be coming through this way again." There was no way I was ever gonna drive anywhere near this town again!  I might avoid the whole state.

I started to walk out the door when a nagging need to know overwhelmed my good senses.  "CD, why did you lie to these folks about bowling?"

CD creepily put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed it where it hurt the most.  "This town worships me.  I'm the mayor, the sheriff, the judge, the doctor, the professor, and landlord of all property.  What I say goes.  These people do what I say, how I say it, and thank me for saying it.  If it takes telling them that bowling with cubes, fertilizing their lawns with milkshakes, or that moonlight with peel their skin off to get them to do what I say; I'll lie.  It is all about control!"   I expected a "Muhahaaha" to follow that.

"It took me years to get folks to forget about bowling balls.  This alley was built by one of my adversaries in the PBA, Earl Anthony; they called him "The Square".  I hated that guy and I swore I'd never let anyone beat me again -- bowling cubes did the trick.  A fitting mockery, don't you think?"

"He donated the alley to the town to raise money for a sick boy. They raised enough money for that boy that he eventually got better; he never amounted to anything though.  What a waste that Sid turned out to be.  Never seemed to fit in."

I was sufficiently creeped out and managed to duck from under the old man's grip. "Well, I better be going." I resisted the temptation to run.  I was certain he was debating on whether to allow me to leave.  I caught Fred's glare from a bar stool and gave a little wave.  Sometimes I just get a little too cocky!

Fred was 50 feet on my heels as I deposited my bag and shut the trunk of the Pontiac rental.

Terrified, I fumbled for the keys. "Where were they?".  "The bag!"  I was dead meat.  I closed my eyes to pray for help.  Tap, Tap, TAP.

I peeked out the window into the big green eyes of that inquisitive girl.  Sid was right behind her, leaning over he whispered something I couldn't hear.  I opened the door and started to get out when Sid and Katy jumped into the backseat.  "Step on it, stranger!" Sid shouted.

"The car isn't even running!" Who were these people? I thought to myself. Don't they know about cars?

"Oh, sorry. Lock your keys in the trunk?"  I was surprised by the suddenly enlightened Sid.  A little embarrassed and increasingly anxious, I replied "Yeah, and Fred is getting closer."  Sid pulled some secret compartment out of the way and set the backseat middle armrest to the side.  Then he managed to squeeze my bag through a portal where the seat used to be.  I was in awe.  Sid's IQ just cleared triple digits in my estimation.  "Here you go." as he tossed me the keys.

Too late.

Fred practically ripped the door off trying to get into the passenger side.  I dropped the keys in the floor just as any typical terrified blonde would have done; except this was real and Freddie was not in my dreams.  Not to mention the fact that I have brown hair and am a middle-aged successful business man.

Katy leaned over and with a toothy grin unlocked the passenger side door.  Unbelievable!

"Uncle Fred wouldn't hurt a fly!" she exclaimed.  "I'm not so sure about that, my brother looks pretty upset to me" came Sid's rebuttal.  Fred was in. . .barely.

He had to scoot a little too close to me for my comfort to fit into the mid-sized car.  Fred was a monster of a man and now he was going to rip my head off.  BANG!!! The shotgun blast ricocheted off the hood.  Now what!

CD was running as fast as a 75 year old man with ash trays for lungs can run.  "Are you gonna sit there or git us out of here!" Fred shouted.

I fired up the engine, slammed it into reverse, bumped into the giant neon sign that glowed "Bowling Alley", and peeled out of there like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.    As I adjusted the rear view mirror to see around Fred, I noticed the flickering neon sign that now read "Earl's Bowling Alley".   It was a beautiful reminder in the sky; impossible to miss unless you just weren't paying attention.  That is, it was for a whole 10 seconds until CD shot out the lights with his shotgun; thankfully, he wasn't shooting as us any longer.

The despot's devilish deception of this town blinded these folks from the true joy of bowling and who knows what else.  Did they really fertilize their lawns with milkshakes?  The moon was peeking over the horizon as we hasted away from the grizzly scene.  Sid and Katy had crawled into the trunk through the hatch and Fred was peeking up at me from the floorboard.  I have no idea how he fit down there.  I sighed at the realization these folks really needed my help.

"Will you teach us how to bowl?" Fred was crying, and then. . .so was I.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Be Afraid!

The most foolish thing a person can do in this life is to NOT fear God.

Look at His record.  Look at what He has done to people who did not fear and subsequently obey Him.
Worldwide flood, fire, brimstone, angels of death, the earth swallowing up people, the sea swallowing up armies, a pile of salt, bears, death by prophet, and the list goes on with what should have been enough warnings.

Why should anyone fear God?  Some insist He does not even exist, others that He wouldn't hurt anyone.  Both mindsets are foolish given the multitude of evidence to the contrary.

Jesus recommended fearing God in Matthew 10:28, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Jesus knew what the wrath of God felt like more than anyone.  He knew it long before He ever died on the cross.  He knew it in eternity past as the Son of God; as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
God has never let anything slide, never allowed an injustice, or never let any sin go unpunished.  In fact, if it were not for Jesus, we would have never known the Love of God.

How foolish for us modern day people to live as if the Almighty God of everything who has never let anything go unpunished is simply going to ignore our unrepentant and disbelieving lifestyles of self-indulgent behavior.

Philosophy and wisdom go hand in hand, so if the beginning of wisdom is to fear God; then any proper philosophy of life should presume a healthy fear of the Almighty. Any other philosophy of life is foolish and vain.  Sadly, foolish and vain is the only course being offered to the vast majority of philosophy students these days.