Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dashboard Confessional

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I watched tearfully today as a single Mom timidly drove out of the church parking lot in a 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. No, I wasn't crying because somebody actually had to get behind the wheel of that doomed make and model. Normally I wouldn't wish that upon my worst enemy. I was moved because this precious woman caught a much needed break in a life marked by heartache and hardship. Her car, you see, was a donation, a gift of love by a person who had never had the priveledge of meeting the woman they so generously blessed.

This year alone Irving Bible Church has given away a staggering 40 cars to folks of varying ages, genders, and life situations. Most have fallen upon some seriously hard times, and a car represents a clean slate with which to spark an upward trend. All are grateful, especially those of us priveledged enough to take part in the give-a-way process.

I'll never forget the time we gave a manual transmission Jeep Cherokee away to a man who had never driven a stick before. I nearly slipped a disk trying to teach this guy how to drive. Sitting in the passengers seat that afternoon felt more like riding shotgun in a horse drawn buggy down a rocky slope than a driving lesson, but we kept at it. We screeched around the parking lot for an hour before deciding to drive him home so that his brother-in-law could continue his lessons until he was safe on the roads. When we dropped him off, this smiling young man yelled "I'm going to learn how to drive this car, I promise you that!"

I'm pretty sure he kept his promise.

Most of the cars we give away aren't going to win any beauty pageants. Many are well worn with high mileage and splotched paint. Occasionally we'll get something in which your kids wouldn't be embarrased to be dropped off at school. Regardless, for those looking to make life work "for" instead of against them, beauty is not a high priority. They just want what I like to call an "A to B" car. That's the kind of vehicle that serves one purpose and one purpose only: to get you from "A to B" in one piece.

In working with this wonderful ministry I've learned to cherish my 1994 Nissan Maxima. Although it has a whopping 170,000 miles on it, I am able to make it from "A to B" whenever need be. It's paid for, and it's one of two vehicles that inhabit my driveway (a driveway which, by the way, is attached to my house - yet another reason to be thankful!). I have it so much better than most, and the car ministry keeps me mindful of that valuable perspective.

So the next time you think you might be better off without that clunker, think about the person who might see your lemon as the apple of her eye, and consider donating your vehicle to the cause. We'll make sure it's running, and we'll find someone who will be happy to set sail in your castaway... even if they have to learn how to drive it first!

For more information on the car minstry of Irving Bible Church, click here

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All in a Day's Work

Book Cover
There are many things one can easily accomplish in a day. I have a friend who runs long distances, and he ran 26 miles in one day. My wife somehow manages to drive our youngest son about 120 miles back and forth from therapy each day. On Wall Street, brokers buy, sell, and trade stocks at a frantic pace, and millions of dollars change hands all in the course of a day. A lot can happen in a day.

Something happened to me yesterday that might be the greatest accomplishment I've ever achieved in a day. I read a book. That's right, cover to cover in one day. The book, Ellie Wiesel's classicly heartbreaking holocaust chronicle, Night, is a thin book, but a book none-the-less.

The contents of this book sit locked in my mind like some terrible secret gnawing at my soul. It's one of those books that make you feel like you've done something wrong for knowing things like this happened and not doing anything about them. I still can't believe something like the holocaust actually happened. Genocide is quite possibly the most evil and shameful invention of man, and the Nazi's own the patent. They were methodical machines of torture, murder, and shame, and it's so painfully tragic to read the plight of those who were the objects of their insidious regime.

I'm glad I read this book. It made me feel literally sick, but there was something so pure about it, like the look in the eyes of a child when they've cut their finger. I needed to see that my life was so charmed and easy that I have absolutely no reason to complain... ever. I also think it's important for Christians to see that humanity is capable of the most horrendous evil. We must be reminded, especially in these days, that Satan is at work in the hearts and minds of those who are "by nature children of wrath" (Eph. 2:3). Acknowledging the presence of evil also helps us long for the hope of the resurrection.

A lot can happen in a day!

Saturday, March 25, 2006


How about those LSU Tigers!! Big Baby and the Tigers were just too much for the Texas Longhorns in the Elite Eight, and they now advance to the Final Four for the first time since 1986!

This team is so fun to watch, and they look like they have even more fun off the court. Big Baby (Glen Davis) said "I have a tapeworm. I'm still hungry for more!" I've never seen a kid that big with a tapeworm. He looks like a brisket with legs.

I officially have March Madness!!

On another note, check out my son, Cale, in his tee ball duds. I think he and Big Baby resemble each other. I had no clue he'd be playing for the Tigers. Geez, life is good!

And one last thought for you: when LSU knocked off Texas Saturday afternoon, they completed the clean sweep of the flagship universities of the state of Texas. That's right, Louisiana - 2, Texas - 0. So what if they beat us in every other national statistic? This is basketball for crying out loud!!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tiger Bait!

Tasmin Mitchell and the Tigers get their point across ...  (AP)
LSU absolutely manhandled the Duke Blue Devils Thursday night in Atlanta to reach the Elite 8 round of the NCAA tournament. Big Baby, Tyrus Thomas, and Co. made Duke look more soft than a middle school kid getting his lunch money taken by the block bully. Thomas was swatting away shots at will, and Davis was splitting double teams and filling up the lane with his bear-like frame. It was a beautiful sight!

Nobody believed me, but I told everybody who would listen that LSU was going to shock the world and beat the Dookies.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sinus Surgery Notes (Not for the faint of heart)

Surgery wasn't as bad as I thought. I was more frightened than Bevo at an Aggie pep rally, but my fears were, as usual, misplaced. Who would've thought that getting the "Full Monty" on my sinuses would turn out to be a relatively easy procedure? Well, it was, and now all I can do is pray that this turns out to be the remedy I've been needing to feel better.

I will tell you that Monday afternoon was a little bit miserable. I can't have you guys thinking that I didn't suffer at least a little bit through this process! After arriving home at about 2pm, I collapsed into bed like a tranquilized bear. I was out of it! In my stupor, I kept noticing something that didn't quite feel right, but I couldn't tell if it was real or just a morphine induced dream.

I'd fall asleep, and then wake up suddenly coughing. Apparently I was choking on my own blood, and it eventually caused me to stumble out of bed and head toward the bathroom. I leaned my head over the sink, and experienced something I can only refer to as "blood faucet". That's the phenomenon that occurs when blood so rapidly flows from your nose and mouth that it looks like an open faucet. It was kind of like Psycho meets Raging Bull, but there was also something kind of cool about it, in a gross sort of way.

Anyway, I experience blood faucet at least twice a day when I "flush" my sinuses (a proceedure whereby I spray a generous amount of saline up my nose until, that's right, the faucet turns on). In a wierd kind of way, this disgusting process has been a good one. With each flush I sense that I'm healing and becoming free of this problem. In a wierd way I'm reminded of how the blood of Christ heals me and sets me free. I know, it's a gross way to get a point across, but sometimes you can't really heal until you've gone through the gross stuff.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Big Baby!

LSU's Glen Davis, aka Big Baby, makes me happy. This guy is 6 feet 9 inches, 305 lbs., and he's seriously one of the largest people I've ever seen. Davis, the SEC's player of the year, is a beast. Nobody's been able to stop him all season, and now that it's NCAA tournament time, Big Baby is delivering big time!

There are two big reasons why I like this guy so much: 1) He wears the number "0", and 2) He's got a great sense of humor. I just think it's so cool that a guy that big, who has shoulders that look like Atlas could stand on them as he picks up the earth, would wear a big zero on his chest. Fact is, Davis is far from a zero. He played for team USA this summer, dominated the Southeaster Conference, and is garnering lots of attention from drooling NBA scouts who would love to lure him away from LSU in hopes of a lucrative deal in the pro's.

But Big Baby is all about the fun. This guy loves to laugh, truly enjoys the game, and lives up to his nickname (he put the "Gentle" in Gentle Giant). Davis reminds me of the wonderful people of the great state of Louisiana. He obviously loves to eat, he works hard, and he adds a spice to life that is unmistakable.

What's more, he and the Tigers just gave me bragging rights with all the Texas A&M folks that surround me! Thanks Big Baby!!

Geaux Tigers!!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

There are Worse Things Than Dying

Irving Bible Church is participating in a Day of Service on Saturday, March 25. We will be building 5 homes for Habitat for Humanity, and doing clean up projects at Cornerstone Mission in downtown Dallas and Sam Houston Middle School in Irving. We'll also be renovating 3 buildings for Brighter Tomorrows, a battered women's shelter. Now, with all of these wonderful opportunities to serve, you'd think there would be no controversy on the part of our congregation. Well, you'd be wrong. Controversy is stirring.

You see, on the weekend of this Day of Service we have decided to cancel all of our Bible Studies. We have 25 classes that will not meet that Sunday, even though the service project is on the Saturday before. Apparently many of our class leaders think this is a bad idea, and have expressed their frustration early and often regarding this issue. We have listened, but we aren't going to budge. I couldn't be more disheartened by this controversy.

IBC is a large facility with ample classroom space. We meet in a lecture hall for all 4 services on Sunday, and we have countless Bible study opportunities throughout the week. But on one weekend per quarter - that's right, 4 weeks out of the year - we ask our people to cancel their classes and participate in a wonderful service event. It's our chance to not simply "do" church, but "be" the church. Instead of being praised for this awesome chance to serve the community, we are bombarded by emails and phone calls from sour parishioners who see this as lowering the priority of their precious class time in favor of a service event that won't attract even a fraction of the people who attend Bible classes.

They're right. This Day of Service won't be near the draw that our classes are. We'll only get 1/4 of our congregation to participate. Most will stay home for various reasons, many of which are legitemate. Others will only be angry that the class time they normally enjoy won't be available to them for a week.

How is it that, in a building of constantly booked classrooms and lecture halls we find that people question our commitment to Bible study? If there's anything we prioritize over and above all else it's Bible study. The thing that gets lost in the fray is service. Service is the fruit of our Bible studies, yet we only seem to get resistance when we implement out-of-the-box ideas to help encourage it. I really don't understand.

Let me give you an example of the two kinds of mentalities that prevail among our Bible studies. I have one class of about 12-15 people who meet on Sunday mornings. They were enthusiastic about the projects and decided to participate with Brighter Tomorrows. They loved the idea of meeting off campus for a time that would, no doubt, strengthen their bond with each other and give them an opportunity to be Christ to the residents of this battered women's shelter. Every person in their class signed up to help, and they did it with joy in their hearts.

I have another class that averages 80 people each week. This class is known for its quality teaching and friendly environment. Most people would call it a great class, yet they only signed up a whopping 5 people to help with the Day of Service. Predictably, they have griped and moaned about the decision to cancel their class in lieu of the service projects.

My hope with canceling these classes is that they will know that they missed something that day. It simply won't do for me to know that 75 people who couldn't lift a finger to help might mosey on in to class that weekend and feel that they are in God's will and haven't missed a thing. It won't fly with me to know that they had a wonderful Bible study but never realized that they missed out on the most important part, the application of the Word of God. To me, their faith without works is worse than dead, it's apathetic. Even death isn't worse than not caring.

Kevin Costner, in the movie "Open Range" says a line that cuts right to the heart of our fat American churches. He looks at a man and his two sons who are scared they might be killed if they do the right thing and says, "There are worse things that can happen to a man than dying." There are worse things for the church as well. When we fail to serve and place a higher priority on learning than doing we are worse than dead. We are under the illusion that we are alive when in fact we are ineffective and without power. We are only window dressing. We look good, but we're useless.

I'm not sure there's anything worse we can be guilty of than that.

Let me also say that IBC is, in general, one of the most amazing service organizations that I've ever been a part of. We are not, however, immune to having problems and being selfish. We're full of people (and I'm one of them) and wherever we are, issues like this will arise. I think we do it better than most, and I'm so blessed to be a part of this wonderful church. Maybe that's why this is so upsetting.

Please know that these are my personal views and do not necessarily represent those of Irving Bible Church (although I'm sure the powers that be at IBC are right there with me!).

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Autism Equation

Dealing with Autism is like trudging through one of those long, unsolvable word problems on a standardized test. No matter how many different ways you try to solve it, you never really know if you're getting it right. Even if you do - by sheer dumb luck - happen to make the proper calculations, the confidence that normally accompanies a correct conclusion is completely absent. Without said confidence you feel like an overrated sports team who wins the game but can't truly celebrate the victory because of the underwhelming manner in which it was attained.

I sat on the couch tonight with my Autistic son, Pierce, and we navigated through my itunes library together. I say we did it together, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not sure if Pierce ever truly does anything "together." We were in close proximity, and we observed the same computer screen, but there were times, I'm sure, when Pierce hardly knew I was in the same house. He sat entranced by the computer and only seemed to notice me when I was obstructing his view. But who knows, maybe I've miscalculated again and this was a real bonding experience between father and son.

I honestly enjoyed my time with Pierce tonight. The computer screen caused his face to shine like a calm blue lake under a full white moon. His bright eyes and full lips looked especially innocent in the ambient glow. He is such a beautiful child that there are moments where his quirky disorder seems like an implausable scenario. I hate to say it, but it's nice every now and then to imagine, if just for a moment, that he's normal.

When it all comes down, the reason that this Autism is so difficult is because it's supposed to be. One of the areas of balance that I'm trying to give myself permisson to explore is the fact that not only is this an opportunity to love my child and fight for his future, but it is also a crisis worthy of grief and struggle. I love Pierce as deeply as I've ever loved anything in my life, but he breaks me to pieces with a pain that is unmatched in my experience.

One thing I can say about Pierce is that he is the best of both worlds. He's the most precious child I've ever been around, and I've never seen a kid with so many fans. He's also very strange. So much so that he is good at being wierd. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Pierce seems to be at home with who he is, even if the rest of us couldn't feel less secure if we were Danish cartoonists in a Mosque.

I don't know what all of this means, and I'm not even going to try to figure it out. That would be way too easy. Pierce is like a sloppily wrapped Christmas gift with untucked edges and ripped wrapping paper. He's definitely special, but he's also too messy to ignore. All we can do is try our best to open him up and enjoy him, even though there are times when we may want to take him to customer service and get an exchange.

On second thought, why would we ever want to do that? I'm sure the one who gave him to us knew what he was doing. We'll see if we can't make him fit.

For more information on Pierce and his struggle with Autism, go to the Project Pierce website.

Pierce is also featured in a video companion to Erwin McManus's new book, "Chasing Daylight." Check it out!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

No Resolution Here

So my wife and I had this argument last night, and it became clear to me that the truth is a hard thing. She gave her opinion, and I gave my opinion, and when it was all said and done, we went to bed angry. As I write this I'm foggy on the details of the whole thing, but I do remember that she was right and I was right, and she was wrong and I was wrong, and in the end, it didn't really matter who was right because we felt all wrong.

Why do we do that to each other? Why can't we just say "You're right", and go back to enjoying a love that defies argument? What is it that makes us gnaw and jab at each other like dueling trial attorneys trading objections in a tension filled hearing? Shouldn't we, after nearly ten years of marriage, be fully aware that we're not always going to agree and leave it at that? If only it were so easy.

The fact of the matter is that, because we love each other, we want to agree and be agreed with. The other fact of the matter is that, because we love ourselves, we want to disagree and be disagreeable. Sometimes the self just wins out and all we're left with is the empty sense of false justification. It's like our emotions skipped a meal... or ate too much. Either way we're uncomfortable and probably a little unstable. I hate that feeling, and I have the sinking sense that she does too.

I love my wife. We have a good marriage, and we rarely argue. When we do, we fight pretty fair, and by mid-morning we're back on track, but I really wish we would never have an argument again. Ever. We have enough to fight through these days without the occasional battle of opinions. I'm sure it's healthy to disagree, but what I'm feeling now doesn't seem healthy. When I see how my self ran roughshod over her self, and vice-versa, I just feel sick.

No resolution here, just a few frustrating thoughts. All I can say is that I was much more wrong than my wife last night. As usual, she was more pure-hearted than I, and rather than celebrating that, I tried to exploit it and tug her into my less than pure pit. My self won, but me lost, and she lost too.

I can't wait till mid-morning.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Coldplay and Nachos

I recently attended the Coldplay concert at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. I scored tickets from one of the guys at church, and decided to take our worship pastor, Russ Ware, along for the ride. The show was very cool, even though I wouldn't rank Coldplay atop my listening hierarchy. They're good and all, but if their songs were shirts in a closet, they'd all look pretty much the same. Not a whole lot of variety with this bunch.

Before the start of the first song, Russ decided to step out for a bit of a pit stop. Honestly, I had to pee too, but I didn't want to risk missing the kickoff number while standing at the stall. The lights dimmed, signaling that the show would soon begin, and still no sign of Russ. What could have happened to him? Did he fall in? Did #1 turn into #2? Where in the world was Russ?

As the back of the stage lit up with rapidly counting white numbers on a black screen, Coldplay suddenly appeared, accompanied by a blast of white light. Lost in the moment, I glanced to my right just in time to catch Russ lumbering down the aisle with an arm full of treats from... the concession stand. The smell of corndogs and cheese somehow made its way through the equally stong smell of a certain herb that permeated the arena. It seemed for a moment that Russ had forgotten he was at a concert for one of the biggest bands in the world, and mistook this event for halftime of a Mavericks game.

I must say that the nachos really enhanced the concert experience, and who knows if I'll ever go to a concert again without a hankering for some good old cheesy nachos from the concession stand? You know you're getting old when your favorite thing about the Coldplay concert is the nachos!

Click here to see pictures from the Coldplay concert.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Following Takes Place Between...

And so begins another stirring episode of the frantically paced action thriller "24". Uber covert super guy, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), is the gravel voiced counter terrorism agent who saves the world each year in roughly a full day. With twists-a-plenty and trust in short supply, Bauer must navigate through the bad guys and the even badder guys on his way to a heart pounding climax where humanity is spared by the microscopic diameter of a gnat hair. And I love every stupid minute of it!

One of the great things about this show is how it packs so much important stuff into one day. I mean when was the last day the president was assasinated, weaponized biochemicals were released on the public, and the entire free world was on the brink of nuclear destruction? The Army used to claim that they did more by 9am than most people did all day. Jack Bauer could easily claim that he does more by 9am than James Bond, Rambo and the Army do all day... every day. Face it, folks, Jack Bauer is this generation's greatest action hero, and one can only hope there will be many "days" to come.

While pondering the latest episode of "24" I was struck by a suprising revelation. Most of our churches view Easter like a season of "24". We tend to look at this holiest of days like the Christian's Superbowl Sunday, but we fail to see the amazing story that leads up to the big game. Jesus wasn't some supernatural Jack Bauer who saved the world in a day. He was the God/Man who was born among us, lived in our culture, and ministered to the poor and oppressed before he ever saved the world. Instead of taking the time to really contemplate the Easter season, we tend to relegate it to a one day event marked by spiffy outfits and cheesy church dramas. We jump wildly from the incarnation to the resurrection as if Christ simply went from womb to empty tomb with no stops in between.

That's why I've decided to observe the season of Lent this year. Lent is a forty day time of sacrifice and remembrance. It marks Christ's 40 day wilderness temptation, and begs us to identify with Jesus by sacrificing objects or activities that may help us focus more deeply on the darkness that Christ endured on our behalf. I'm convinced that this observance enriches life and allows us to view Easter more as "24/7" than simply "24".