Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Safe from "Christians"

While listening to the news this morning, I heard excerpts of Presidents Bush’s Memorial Day remarks at Arlington Cemetery. I’m proud of the men that have sacrificed so much to make this country free. I believe their remembrance deserves more than one day a year. I was a little disappointed to hear Bush’s remarks begin to smack of political rhetoric as he invoked the memory of fallen heroes.

Dubya took used the opportunity to introduce us to the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act. Since he brought politics into, I was already skeptical about what he was trying to do and for whom. I cringe every time a law is passed that limits anything guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, i.e. Freedom of Speech.

The reason this Bill was introduced is embarrassing and infuriating. This is embarrassing because Americans are defaming the memory of our fallen sons during a family’s private bereavement. It’s infuriating because our government is acting to protect mourners from the audacious behavior of those claiming to be followers of Christ and stewards of His Gospel (SOURCE).

You can see the things these folks, these brothers, on their website: GodHatesFages.com. The first thing you’ll notice when you open the webpage is a bright yellow diamond with the following message: WARNING!! GOSPEL PREACHING AHEAD.

Warning: Good News. But there is nothing but bad news to read on this site; the kind of news that excludes. If there is any good news to be heard or read from this group, it’s definitely not easy to find.

I find that unsettling. I know that this is obviously an extreme group, but they damage the credibility of all who call themselves Christians. But hey, were not perfect, just forgiven. Who cares if God’s good news is buried beneath all the other junk we want to talk about like politics and judgments about who is or isn’t going to heaven. The Gospel is in there somewhere. Just move all that junk around. You’ll find it sooner or later.

A teaching Jesus gives recorded in Matthew 5 comes to mind:

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

I’ll be honest with you: it ruined my day to learn that Congress had to act to protect Americans honoring their dead from whackos that think they have the keys to the Kingdom.

Class of '06 Gots Class

I found the following posted on David and Lara's blog who found it on Blonde Sagacity blog. Good stuff. These students have a future....

Tenesee's Munford High School had always started and ended their graduation with a student-lead prayer --that is until the ACLU told them they couldn't.

Now the principal just asks the students for a "moment of silence" to "reflect on what makes the day special". But, this year the students wouldn't be silent...

" Most of the audience stood, bowing their heads. Then, most of the 286 graduating seniors pulled out laminated bookmarks and folded up pieces of paper that they had been given earlier and began reciting "The Lord's Prayer." Students said beforehand that they knew that the moment of silence would be their chance to speak.

Once those in the audience realized what the students were doing, they broke into wild cheering as the silence in the football stadium was broken by the verses of the prayer.

"Please be seated," Marshall told the crowd. "We appreciate the community's support."

ACLU executive director Hedy Weinberg of Nashville could not be reached for comment after the graduation.

"The "Tennessee Student Religious Liberty Act of 1997" says in part, a student shall be permitted to voluntarily: (1) Pray in a public school, vocally or silently, alone or with other students to the same extent and under the same circumstances as a student is permitted to vocally or silently reflect, meditate or speak on non-religious matters alone or with other students in such public school."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Signs of the Times

Click on the picture for a bigger version...

Morning Off

“Come over here, sit down, and have some coffee with me. Get off your computer,” said the charming and beautiful Susan this morning as I checked my email. "It’s your day off."

“That’s Dad’s ‘virtual life,’” said Aaron, my seventeen year old. “I bet he wishes you were his ‘virtual wife,’ Mom. Dad could pause, play, or mute you. Wouldn’t that be cool, Dad?”

“Hon, what would you like in your coffee?” I know better to even acknowledge that statement. The boy was trying to set me up.

He has a couple of skateboards that he brought into the house after he cleaned his car. “Dad, you want to try out my long board?”

“Yeah, man.”

My wife just rolled her eyes. “I have to take a shower before I take the dog to the vet. I don’t have time for a trip to the emergency room.”

“Who do you think taught this boy to skate? Me, that’s who. I got it under control!”

What do you think is more fragile: my body or my ego?

So the boy and I rode skate boards this morning for about an hour. My neighbors thought that was pretty humorous. But we had a great time. This is the kind of father and son kind of stuff we’ve done Aaron’s whole life.

As I think back, we’ve taught our kids just about everything they know how to do. We home schooled them so we taught them to read and write. We’ve taught them to pray, to read the Bible, and keep a journal. We’ve taught them how to run, climb trees, swim, bicycle and fight. I’ve taught them how to shoot and how to drive. My son and daughter have been by my side in ministry both near and far.

I have only a short time before this boy is a man and is up and out. I’ll take whatever time he gives me and pray I can keep up.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Evolution of Dance

I never could dance. I have no rythm. I can barely walk and chew gum. So I live vicariously through the guys you see dancing in various videos I post. You'll love this one... It's about six minutes long.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Middle East Misconception

There is great shock value in telling people you’re heading over to the Middle East. My parents mostly say, “That’s nice, Bryon. How do you think the Dolphins are going to do this year?” And then they talk about me to my brother and sister thinking I have a screw loose or a death wish. My father, a big Tom Clancy fan, pretends I’m in the CIA to comfort himself.

I took my first trip to a Muslim ruled country a few years ago. I mentioned it to a pastor I really look up to and he said, “What do you want me to tell your wife at your funeral?”

To his credit, the Muslim country was Sudan and they were embroiled in civil war at the time.

“You can’t believe everything you see on T.V.”

Those words of wisdom came from my mom when I was growing up. Of course, I would just look at her with sort of a blank stare and think to myself: you can’t be serious, Mom… it’s on television… it has to be true…it’s a law of the universe…

I now believe that about everything I read on the internet.

Most of what we believe about the Middle East comes from CNN and FOX news. WE don’t want to believe what CNN had to say in defense of Clinton and we don’t believe (hopefully) what FOX news says in defense of Bush, but we want to believe what these hacks say (to keep ratings up) about the people who live in the Middle East.

I’ve never seen hospitality practiced the way it’s practiced in the Middle East. Courtesy is a way of life. Rude behavior toward guests is not tolerated.

We had the unfortunate experience in the course of two days of getting three flat tires. Two one day while on some remote, desert back roads, and one on our final day of travel to the airport. While out in the desolate back roads, people seemed to magically appear to help us change our tires. Thankfully, we had two vehicles of the same make so we had two spare tires available to fix our two flats. The occupants of the vehicles were not even allowed to lift a finger. We broke down in their territory so we were guests. The locals changed our tires. Muslims helping westerners – Christians. One of our new tires was punctured by a nail the next day on a busy highway. The tire iron we had in the car didn’t fit the nuts on the rim correctly. There is my skin and blood from a damaged knuckle at the scene to prove it. The first car we flagged down stopped, but they didn’t have the tool we needed. The second car we flagged stopped. Same thing – wrong tool. The third car we flagged stopped and had what we needed. The fur guys in the car got out and changed the tire in record time. I was amazed.

I knew I was home when I visited the drug store the other day to buy some orange juice. I was paying the cashier when a woman in an obvious hurry came in looking for batteries. She left her car running with her daughter decked out for her first communion sitting in the passenger seat. The lady asked the cashier who was helping me where she could find double A’s so she could be on her way.

The lady asked the guy behind me with a basket load of items if she could go first.

“It’s my daughter’s first communion,” she pleaded.

“No. I’m in just as big a hurry,” said the man.

I couldn’t believe it. I was embarrassed for everybody. Especially for the poor little girl who walked in to witness her mom’s humiliation on her special day.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Second Middle East Report

Our wayward sheep, Ivana, joined us Monday in Our City. We were happy to have our team reunited after the setback of Ivana’s passport coming up missing in Atlanta. Her passport was actually stolen. Now we’re all joking about Ivana’s quick round-trip between the Ft. Lauderdale and Atlanta airports. Well, maybe only I’m joking, but laughs are being had by someone.

The team’s health has been good up until today. As I type this, it feels like Al Queda has opened a terrorist training camp in our tummies. It may be from the curry loaded into an Arab yoghurt.

Today is Thursday, which is the first day of the Muslim weekend. We have a day of activities with locals planned. The girls are going with local girls and the men with local guys on separate outings involving food (who’d a thunk?) and a drive up the mountain.

The food here at Fred’s, if I haven’t already mentioned it, is amazing and his house is always full of local and worker friends. Frank has shown us a first rate time. He knows many local shop owners that have an honest and unusual affection for him. Frank has a reputation among locals and workers alike as being uniquely gifted for relating to locals and adapting easily to the culture and customs.

Our team conducts English Cafes at an English/Arabic language school. That is how we are serving workers here in the country. It gives us an unprecedented opportunity to talk about many different topics from the rights of women in a Muslim country to honest and open conversation about the difference between our faiths. We’ve also organized debates conducting conversation between men and women permitting free expression about touchy topics. The back and forth banter was heated at times and humorous at others. As I mentioned earlier, the area where we are serving is an intellectual and educational center. The potential for new ideas and political and religious evolution is in reach now more than ever. Our team is honored to be included in what our Father is doing here in the region.

Spending time with the locals is unique and mind blowing to say the least. The way the internet and evening news shapes our thinking about Muslim culture hasn’t even come close to the experience we are having here. Granted, the culture is upside down compared to what we’re used to, but, the people here have treated us with extraordinary hospitality and generosity.

Three nights ago, we went to the souk sumac (fish market) and picked out some fish to eat. What happens here when fish is prepared in a restaurant is the customer buys the fish in the market and brings it to the restaurant for preparation. It’s a fun way of combining shopping and eating, two of my favorite pastimes.

We’ve been blessed to have Janette with us. Besides having a truly gentle spirit, she plays guitar wonderfully. She played for the students we are working with introducing them to the songs we sing to God and she’s lead our team in awesome times of thinking about and focusing on our Father. She has made a crucial contribution to the spiritual element behind the team unity we have been enjoying. Her husband, Jonathan is a man of character and compassion and has been instrumental in keeping the English clinics on topic and on target. Liz, from my city back home, has been a true servant always spreading laughter on the team. And Ivana has been an incredible addition that has completed our well-rounded team. We can’t imagine what the trip would have been like without her.

The local girls blessed the females on our team with a wonderful lunch yesterday. Our ladies have built quite a rapport with them. The girls even removed their veils and allowed pictures to be taken that we can show freely at home.

The next few days we’ll have been planned for us and will include an afternoon spent with the sheik, a meeting with other workers, more English cafes, lunches with locals, and travel back to the capitol.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Camel's Milk

While in the Middle East last week, we drank some camel's milk. Check out the video...

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

First Middle East Report

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind.” Luke 12:29

You will be relieved, as was I, to know that my fears of going without were not realized here. Good coffee, indeed, exquisite Yemeni coffee, freely flows here at Fred’s flat.

As you know, we ran into our first snag at the Atlanta airport. Our group made its way to the Frankfort, Germany departure gate when one of our number discovered her passport missing. By the time we made it back to the gate of the plane that brought us to Atlanta, it was already loaded back up and en route to Florida. Six weeks of meetings and training that forged our group into friends suddenly seemed wasted. The euphoria of group travel to far off places instantly vanished as were sobered by leaving one from our team in Atlanta.

That set back was short lived as we joined the group from Chattanooga and boarded the plane that carried us on the trans-Atlantic leg of the trip. In the midst of introductions and reunions of mid-east outreach veterans, we quickly forgot that we were one light. The group’s size had doubled and the Chattanooga team never knew the difference anyway.

Live and learn.

Our arrival in the Middle East went smoothly. The airport was not nearly as hectic as the first few times I’ve been here. We had prepared our team for much more chaos than was delivered. It was sort of anti-climatic, although we did come up two bags short. And we had the pandemonium of traffic and the bedlam of the Old City to look forward to on the next day. That cheery thought buoyed my spirits.

Our accommodations the first two days were spectacular. Kudos to Bob and James for hosting our arrival. Our time in the capitol and in the Old City was amazing. The experience was as new and exciting for the vets as it was for first-timers. The commotion and disorder in al souk was enough to make it really interesting but not terribly disorienting. The salta meal we enjoyed together in a four hundred year old house was incredible. The new flavors and way of eating were enjoyably consistent with the rest of the strange and brilliant sights and smells of the Old City.

We were all excited as we prepared to head in our different directions. The team heading to Fred’s city piled into the Land cruiser driven by Ronald shortly after an Arab style breakfast. The trip took five hours. But it also was filled with new and spectacular sights as we traveled past ruins of castles built atop high mountains that commanded a spectacular view of farm-filled valleys and dry river beds below.

We ate lunch at a small village tucked in one of these mountain passes.
Yesterday was our first full day in Frank’s city, a place that provides the country with most of its educators and business people. It is here where our team will conduct English cafes with Arab speakers learning English. We spent the morning worshiping together and having communion with other workers here from Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Asia, and America. The ladies on our team will have dinner with some worker ladies tonight.

Today was a day of introduction of our team to the students and teachers we’ll be serving with the English cafes. We have been received warmly and the team is, quite frankly, a little nervous about our ability to meet expectations here. If it goes at all like our visits with locals yesterday, it will be great. Those with any kind of English ability have engaged us in conversation revolving around everything from our impressions of their country to our Christian beliefs. They want to know everything about us as well as test the limits of their English speaking skills. I’m confident that the time before us will be incredibly productive for everyone involved.

The reason I’ve had time to write such an epistle is I’ve been dispatched by Fred to wait for a plumber here at the flat while Fred is in class. I’m here now with a plumber that knows as much English as I know Arabic which isn’t much. A crash course in Arabic has been prepared for my team. We’ll spend the first hour of every day learning the language. That’s where my teammates are as I’m filing this report.

Day after tomorrow Ronald and I will go pick up the team member we left in Atlanta. A new passport and visa were expeditiously issued over the past few days and she will rejoin our team. We’re all excited about that and graciously thanking our Father for going before us and making all the arrangements. Please join us in asking for continued favor.