Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Kingdom of God

As we have begun the Partnership for Missional Church, one of the disciplines that we have begun practicing is "Dwelling in the Word". We regularly dwell in Luke 10, which refers twice to the Kingdom of God being near. Yesterday, Mike Cope wrote a terrific post on the kingdom in his blog - .

New Orleans Report

At the Elders' Meeting Monday evening the kids in the youth group and the sponsors who went to New Orleans reported on their trip. They each spoke about their experience and related a specific story or impression from the trip. Some of the stories recounted interactions with adults or children and the hope they displayed; some were of the overwhelming devastation that remains nearly a year later; many expressed how greatful they are for their homes and families; all conveyed that the experience would remain with them and shape their lives.

As I listened to their stories a number of thoughts ran through my head. First, was that I am proud of our kids for giving not only a week of their summer, but their hearts in service to others. I am thankful for the adults that went with them, and especially so that Dwight went. What an example and blessing for those kids to spend a week with their preacher in that setting. It can't help but give them a different perspective on Sunday mornings.

I was struck by the observation that so many of the kids told of the sense of hope that was expressed by so many of the people they interacted with. I wondered if I would be hopeful in the same situation. I also wondered whether it would take the loss of home, livelihood, or even family to make me recognize that when I put my hope anywhere but in God, I am trusting in sinking sand and drifting wind.

A final thought was that I don't have to go to New Orleans to see people who have suffered or are suffering through their own devasting events, who are struggling, who need the hope that comes only from God. They are all around if I can only learn to see them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More Good News

Yesterday's Austin American-Statesman reported a study showing that Texas has a higher percentage of children living in poverty than 41 other states. According to the annual Kids Count study:

  • Twenty-three percent of the state's children live in poverty, compared with the national average of 18 percent.
  • Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured children in the country, 21 percent. The national average is 11 percent.
  • Almost half of Texas children lived in low-income families in 2004. That's an income below $38,314 for a family of four.
  • Texas' infant mortality rate and the percentage of babies with low birth weights increased between 2000 and 2003. The state ranks 22nd in the nation on both.
  • Twenty-nine percent of Texas children are in immigrant families, compared with 20 percent of children in the country.
  • One in 10 Texas children lives in extreme poverty (below $9,579 a year for a family of four in 2004).
  • Texas had the second-lowest percentage of immunized children in 2004, 75 percent. Only Nevada had a lower percentage, 71 percent.

Not to be concerned, though, Texas can add a couple of more accountability tests and that will more than make up for the deficit that these kids enter school with.


This morning's Dallas Morning News reported that the 2 high school seniors who delivered the marijuana muffins to Lake Highlands HS as a senior prank are each being charged with 5 counts of felony assault on a public servant. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison. Is it possible that someone is over-reacting just a tad?


One of my colleagues commented today that education has become a field where thinking is no longer welcome...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Been Awhile...

It's been a while since my last post. Partly due to traveling; partly due to getting into some genealogical research; partly due to not having much to say. I usually write at night, but lately when I get online at night I get absorbed tracing family history.

A few weeks ago I was in West Virginia for the weekend to surprise my parents and my aunt. It had been 5 years since my last trip there, and I wanted to see the old family cemetery but there wasn't time on this trip. My great grandparents and my great-great grandparents are among those buried here. Since that trip, I have discovered the obituary of my great-great grandfather, and have been able to trace back to his grandfather, John Gray - a Revolutionary War veteran who was born in Pennsylania in 1761.

Below is the obituary of my great-great grandfather:
Francis M. GRAY - One of the oldest soldiers and citizens of this community was laid to rest on 6 May 1923 in the Gray Cemetery near Kausooth. He was 82 years and 26 days old. He had walked with a painful limb for about sixty years, the result of a wound received from a rebel bullet in the years of 1862 to 1865. His wife preceded him in death over 16 years ago. He lived with his son Jason on the home farm for a while & from there he went to this daughter's home. She was Mrs. Melvin Siburt & he lived there until she died. He came to his daughter, Lucinda Burge & stayed until death called him home. He was united in marriage to Miss Jane McCollough on 4 Jul 1862 & to them were born eight children, four girls & four boys. One boy died in infancy. Andrew died when about 35 years of age. Mrs. Melvin Siburt & Mrs. Andrew McCardle died several years ago. Those living are: Jason Gray of Kausooth; Mrs. Lucinda Burge, Cameron, WV; Ben Gray, Freeport, OH & Mrs. Cora Snedeker of Washington, PA. Funeral services were conducted at the home by Rev. J. M. Rine. Pallbearers were his two sons, Jason & Ben Gray; two grandsons, Chester & John Gray & two nephews, J. B. Gray & Madison Gray of Moundsville, WV. Interment was in the family burial ground on the home farm near Kausooth, Marshall Co, WV.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Father's Day Quotes

The most important thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother...Theodore M. Hesburgh

My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it...Clarence B. Kelland

It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father...Pope John XXIII

My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass." "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys."...Harmon Killebrew

Small boys become big men through the influence of big men who care about small boys...Anonymous

If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right...Bill Cosby

One night a father overheard his son pray: Dear God, Make me the kind of man my Daddy is. Later that night, the Father prayed, Dear God, Make me the kind of man my son wants me to be...Anonymous

By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact. But I am prouder – infinitely prouder – to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build; the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still. It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle field but in the home repeating with him our simple daily prayer, 'Our Father who art in Heaven.'...Douglas MacArthur

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years...Mark Twain

Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord...Ephesians 6:4

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Missional Worship

In a recent Daily Heartlight article Phil Ware describes worship in missional terms...

I'm convinced that much of our sense of worship is well-intentioned wrong-headedness. We've confined worship to what we do in our daily quiet times, in our church building sanctuaries, and our small group Bible studies. In other words, worship takes place away from the everyday world where we live, the jobs where we work, the leisure activities we enjoy, and the activities where our children play. In other words, worship is what occurs at the margins, fringes, and short moments of time where we are isolated from "real life."

While worship with Christians is great and necessary, it is private worship with our church family. Occasionally someone from the "outside"may come in and be blessed (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). But Jesus left the incredible worship world of Heaven to enter the everyday world of fallen humanity to do the will of God, show the love of God, and bring God glory -- in other words, Jesus' life was a life of worship! God wants us to follow our Lord's example. He wants us to take our worship out into the "real world" where we work, play, go to school, and watch our children in their activities. Worship must be what we do in our daily lives out in the world around us (Romans 12:1). We meet together for worship to "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" in our daily worship lived out daily in the world around us (Hebrews 10:24-25NAS).

Our power to change the character of our culture will be found in the compassion and quality of our daily lives, not in the political clout we can marshal at the polls or in the power of our Christian assemblies(1 Peter 2:11-12). The way we conduct ourselves in our daily lives, openly living our faith but not shoving it down everyone's throat, will give us the opportunity to share the real basis of our hope in Jesus even in the most hostile situations (1 Peter 3:13-17).

Once we grab hold of this concept, we're in for quite a surprise. We learn that our lives will be heard by the skeptical world around us more than our words. We will discover that each day is a day holy to God. How we treat our family, the way we conduct ourselves at work, the kind of person we are at school, the way we carry ourselves at our children's events, the way we help those around us who are in need, andthe kind of neighbor we are when we are at home all are a crucial parts of worship. Rather than God being a tack on part of our day-to-day lives, he will inhabit all spaces and places of each day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

1 Corinthians 13

As we continue the conversation on what it means to become missional, I recently came across a post where the author personalized Paul's description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. As we seek to listen to God, to discern His plans for us, to be transformed into His image, this reading gives some perspective as to what that would look like:
I am patient, I am kind and not jealous. I do not brag and am not arrogant, do not act unbecomingly. I do not seek my own, am not provoked, do not take into account a wrong suffered, do not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoice with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. I never fail.
I have a ways to go....

In contrast is this story recounted by Rubel Shelley in this week's Fax of Life...

A good citizen was being tailgated by a stressed-out woman on a busy street. Suddenly, the light at the intersection just in front of them turned yellow. The good citizen did the right thing by stopping at the crosswalk – even though he could have beaten the red light by gunning it through the intersection.

The tailgating woman hit the roof – and her horn. She was screaming in frustration because she had missed her chance to get through the intersection. As she was still in mid-rant – alternately pounding the steering wheel and gesturing to the fellow in front of her – she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He put handcuffs on her. He took her to the police station, where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.

After a couple of hours, a police captain approached the cell and opened the door. The woman was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects. He said, "I'm very sorry for my mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cursing a blue streak. Then I noticed the ‘Choose Life' license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do?' bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

A couple of weeks ago my sisters and I had a surprise reception for my parents 50th anniversary. Their actual anniversary was this past Friday, and it was spent like most of their lives - serving.

Since their retirement they have lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas and have been active in their support of the children's home in Paragould. They travel to Paragould several times each year to do maintenance, construction, cleaning and renovation work on the facilities of the home. A couple of years ago, they helped open a thrift store in Mountain Home to help raise funds for the children's home and on their 50th anniversary they were volunteering at the thrift store. (They did go out to dinner that evening)

This is not a pattern that began after retirement. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad doing things at the church building - printing the bulletin, painting, maintaining the mowers, shoveling snow - and doing things to help others - roofing Elmer's house, mowing Mr. Denney's lawn, cleaning up Aunt Rene's basement after the creek had flooded. Both of my parents figuratively washed the feet of the people they encountered in their lives.

Retirement did not bring a decline in their service - to the contrary, it provided more time for service. Mom works a regular volunteer schedule at the hospital in Mountain Home. Dad drives a van route from Mountain Home to Little Rock, picking up veterans and taking them to the VA hospital, and then bringing them back home. They both work at the thrift store and still make trips to Paragould.

I think their servant attitudes are one of the contributing factors to the 50 successful years of marriage. They both put the interests of others, including each other, before their own interests. Another factor is their commitement to one another. In the 48 years that I have known them I have never doubted or questioned their commitment and devotion to one another. Barbara and I are both fortunate in having that kind of commitment modeled by our parents.

Mom and Dad - I am proud of you. Congratulations on 50 years and I hope you have dozens more.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

PMC - Random Reflections

Several of us spent all day and evening yesterday and most of today in the first of several cluster meetings with other partner congregations, ACU staff, and consultants from Church Innovations. In no particular order here are some reflections:

Trust - Trust is based on two basic elements: Character (Trustworthiness), and Competence in the field of action. If either character or competence is lacking, trust is damaged. We are beginning a process where as leaders we don't presume that we necessarily have a great deal of competence. Character therefore becomes even more imperative...

Dying or Pregnant? A woman who goes to the doctor displaying the symptoms of being sick and tired may be dying or she may be pregnant. A church that is sick and tired may be dying...or it may be pregnant. If it is God's will that a congregation die, then no program or personality will be able to save it. But a pregnant church, although it may go through considerable pain, gives birth to new life.

Trust (part 2) - In Genesis 12 God tells Abraham to leave his home and move to a land that he would reveal to him. As we embark on this journey, we don't know our ultimate destination, but we trust God to reveal it to us as we go through the process.

Spirit - The Spirit of God is present among the people of God. If we, as God's people, can learn better to listen to His Spirit, then collectively we will be better able to discern His will for us as a church.

Making disciples in an age of consumerism - as we transform into a missional church, we will see people as disciples rather than as customers.

Friday, June 09, 2006


The following excerpt from yesterday's Dallas Morning News Viewpoints section contains a profound insight into the challenges faced by many in our community in attempting to achieve the American Dream...

On Sunday, The Washington Post ran an extensive poll delving into the experiences of black men and their attitudes toward themselves, as well as other Americans' attitudes toward them. Here, two employees of the Dallas-based Foundation for Community Empowerment – an African-American man and a white woman – mull the implications of the sometimes surprising findings on this highly charged subject.

Victoria Loe Hicks: So, Marcus, what jumped out for you in the poll? For me it was that black men are their own toughest critics. For instance, a majority of all respondents said that black men are too focused on sports and sex and not focused enough on getting a good education, but black men were much stronger in those critiques than black women, white men or white women. Of course, no one knows us as well as we know ourselves.

Marcus Martin: I think what surprised me most is how many black men have internalized the obstacles and hardships that many black men across America face. They blame themselves, just as others blame them, for not overcoming those obstacles and hardships.

Hicks: So what I interpreted as self-awareness, you interpret as something more like internalized oppression?

Martin: Exactly. And part of this, I believe, is rooted in the way we measure whether a person has achieved the American dream – typically, we look only at the end result. I believe that is a flawed measure.

Hicks: But what is there to measure, other than the end result?

Martin: Well, I as a black man and you as a white woman have the same goals: a good education, good job, nice home, etc. However, because of my starting place – poverty, single-parent home, racism, etc. – I have 50 obstacles to overcome, where you have five. You manage to overcome those five and achieve the dream. I manage to overcome 30, but if the other 20 leave me by the wayside, society is ready to tell me I did not try hard enough. The African-American single mother who manages to get her three kids to graduate from high school has been just as successful as the upper-middle-class family that managed to get their three kids through Harvard – although society won't agree.

There is a lot to think about in this short excerpt, but 3 thoughts come immediately to mind:

First, starting place, while not the only factor, is one of the most significant factors in determining one's opportunity to achieve "success".

Second, we need to reconsider our definition of success. I was reading Ecclesiastes earlier today and was reminded again about what is important in life.

Third, I was reminded again how much I admire and appreciate Don Williams.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Partnership for Missional Church

This weekend we formally kick off our participation in the Partnership for Missional Church. Over the next several months I anticipate that we will be engaged in significant conversation regarding what the PMC is, what are the implications for Skillman, and eventually what impact it is having.

Starting the conversation about what it is, I want to look at the three main words in the title:

Partnership - We will be engaged in prayer, study, and sharing of ideas, successes, and failures with about a dozen other churches of Christ, staff from ACU, and consultants from Church Innovations. Church Innovations is "a non-profit organization devoted to renewing the Church’s focus on God’s mission in the world. Rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and wholly committed to following God’s leading for every congregation, we provide research and consulting tools, products and processes that increase your church’s capacities to experience God’s renewal and transformation."

Missional - We will be engaged in discovery of what it means - what it looks like - to fulfill Jesus' commission in our specific circumstances, time, culture, and community.

Church - We will be inviting the entire congregation to join in the conversation and to particpate in a transformation from a model where we are consumers of religious goods and services and where we typically pay someone else to carry out the mission that Jesus gave us to a model where we each take on the responsibility of carrying out the mission.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


"In His messages to these seven churches [in Revelation 2-3] Jesus, for some reason, omits any reference to how many people attend church, how many people are saved, or how much money is donated and collected. Jesus does not seem to be interested in their architecture or furnishings of the edifice in which His people gather for worship. As we study these seven churches, it becomes abundantly clear that Jesus does not measure spiritual success by statistics and size. Jesus' fundamental and essential focus in every message is about new life in Him, given by God's grace."
--Greg Albrecht, Revelation Revolution: The Overlooked Message of the Apocalypse (World Publishing: Nashville, Tenn., 2005), p. 51.