Friday, June 20, 2008

What the world really admires

Peggy Noonan wrote these lines in a column on a lesson from the coverage of Tim Russert's recent death:

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn't. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn't, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That's what it really admires. That's what we talk about in eulogies, because that's what's important. We don't say, "The thing about Joe was he was rich." We say, if we can, "The thing about Joe was he took care of people."

Those lines reminded me of a sermon I preached Wednesday before last on a couple of 2008 high school graduates and goodness. Don't worry, I won't reproduce the whole sermon in this blog.

One graduate made such a scene at his commencement that he was arrested. He yelled curses and made obscene gestures from the stage. According to one report he took a swing at the principal instead of shaking hands with him. So this new diploma recipient had a mug shot made in his graduation gown to go along with his senior portrait. He was not a very good boy.

The other graduate is Adam DiPippo, the valedictorian of a small class of 20 students in Derry, New Hampshire. An article on his commencement speech says that DiPippo encouraged his classmates "to seek not self gratification but service to others.” Ultimately he urged them to "do good" explaining this call with these words: "I know that isn't grammatically correct, but I did it on purpose. I don't want you to do well. I want you all to do good."

One graduate was a very bad boy at his graduation and another exhorted his classmates to "do good." Less than a week later Tim Russert died way too early and he is roundly admired for his goodness. All of this reminded me of Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (TNIV).

We were created to do good works and, in the end, it is our goodness that will be admired more than anything else. Salvation is by grace through faith, of course (Eph. 2:8). We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to good works.

So let us do good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Who are my family members?

Father's Day inspired me to think of Jesus' definition of family. But I'll get back to that.

My father lives about five hours away, so I called him and we had a pretty long and very pleasant conversation. My mother answered the phone so I also talked to her for a few minutes before I chatted with Dad. My parents are great persons, outstanding parents, not to mention exemplary followers of Christ. I love them both dearly.

My youngest daughter, Amanda, who just graduated from high school last Saturday, had a card for me and she also gave me one of my favorite desserts for Father's Day. My stepson, Daniel, sent me a message wishing me a "happy Dad's Day." My other stepson, Patrick, is in Iraq right now so communication is a bit tougher in his case. Terri gave me a book that I wanted and prepared a special Father's Day meal for me on Saturday evening. My oldest daughter, Erica, lives 40 miles away and she sent me a sweet Father's Day message.

The gift I received from my 20-year old daughter, Alison, underscored a transition in our relationship. She got married to Heath Dosher on April 20 of this year. They invited me over for supper yesterday evening.

Terri and Amanda along with other members of our youth group left for a youth camp held at Wingate University right after church services yesterday and they will be gone all week. So Alison called as the youth were leaving and asked me to join she and Heath for an evening meal and I accepted.

These newlyweds live only six miles away. They grilled London broil, corn on the cob and potatoes. They also fried some chicken wings using a special batter recipe they had discovered. The food was great, but the fellowship was even better.

This was the first time Alison and Heath have invited me over for a meal in their home. It was most enjoyable but also a little strange. Oh, they made me feel right at home but Alison being married and preparing supper for me with her husband is new and different.

When I arrived Heath was at the grill and I went inside to find Alison busy in the kitchen. After greeting me she pointed out a gift bag saying that it was for me. Inside was a very sweet card and a wonderful gift.

A Styrofoam package in the bag contained a mug with eight photos of various family members made into its surface. The pictures were all taken at the wedding. Around the bottom of the mug was this message: "You're the Best Dad! I love you!"

I was touched.

A loving family is a glorious blessing and I hope I never take it lightly. But I never pass a Mother's Day or Father's day without remembering Jesus' definition of family that is far different than our typical understanding of the term.

While teaching in a very crowded house Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were outside. The Lord responded, "'Who are my mother and my brothers? ... Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.'" (Mark 3:33-34, TNIV).

I really appreciate the family expressions of love that were directed my way in connection with Father's Day. But the day left me wondering, as it always does, what our world would look like if we applied Jesus-style family values.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Source of inspiration

I am a graduate of Virginia Tech, a school that prides itself on its college football program. Some of you football fans may know that Lane Stadium, the Virginia Tech Hokie’s home field, was voted the number one home field advantage in college football in and the second scariest place to play for opponents at

One of the most impressive features of a home game at Lane Stadium is the
entrance onto the field of the Hokie team. Just before the team enters, they play the introduction to the song “Enter Sandman” by a group called Metallica. When the Hokie fans hear that song begin, they go crazy. Sixty-some thousand of them jump up and down and scream to the top of their lungs. And when the song reaches a particular fever pitch the team runs onto the field with huge flags spelling out “Hokies.” The whole thing is a trademark, deafening display of football frenzy that gets everybody’s adrenaline pumping, fans and players alike.

After all of that you might think that I am going to tell you a story about the Virginia Tech football team, but I’m not. I am going to tell you a story about the Virginia Tech lady’s softball team instead. Actually, it is THE Virginia Tech softball team, because there is no men’s softball team. About three weeks ago my brother sent me
an article about an interesting occurrence at one of their games.

The Hokie’s softball team was playing in the regional finals of the NCAA Softball Tournament against the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee was the number one seed in the Hokie’s bracket. They have played in the Softball World Series for the last three years. The Hokies have never been in the World Series.

But the ladies from Virginia Tech managed to win the first game of the best of three regional series. The next night there was a double-header that would decide the regional winner of the tournament. In the first game Tennessee crushed the Hokies 7-1 and the Hokies were losing in the second game in the fourth inning when there was a rain delay of about an hour.

At the end of the rain delay as play was just about to resume, the announcer played a song. You need to know that this game was being played in Tennessee, not Virginia. Guess what song the Tennessee announcer played over the loud speaker just as play was about to resume? “Enter Sandman,” the Metallica song that is famous to all Virginia Tech fans as the one that is played when the football team enters the field. Well, the softball players for Virginia Tech went nuts. They jumped up and down and screamed just like the fans and players do when that song is played at a football game. Many of the fans in Tennessee along with that announcer who played the song must have wondered what in the world was going on with them.

The Hokies were at bat and they scored four runs in that half of the inning after that song was played. Those were the only runs they scored in the entire game. Before the rain delay the Hokies had one runner on base. Misty Hall came up to bat, the first batter after the rain delay, and she smacked a 2-run homer that put the Hokies up 2-1. She said, “When we heard 'Enter ... Sandman,' we all pretty much got our adrenaline going. My adrenaline was at the peak when I was up to bat …”

The Hokies went on to win the game 4-2 to advance to the Super-Regionals for the first time in the history of the program, and the team said it was because the announcer played “Enter Sandman.” Angela Tincher, the picher, said that song “Got us pumped up—it was awesome.”

By the way, the Hokies wound up making it to the World Series for the first time ever too.

What is your source of inspiration in the game of life? What gets you pumped up to accomplish what God has called you to do. The apostle Paul seemed to be inspired by the source of his strength: "We proclaim [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me" (Col. 1:28-29, TNIV).

Do you think Christ provides energy to us all for accomplishing his mission? I think so and that seems like a pretty good reason to get pumped up.