Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Land of Beauty and Contrasts

The day that we moved Taylor into his dorm we made a trip through Malibu Canyon to the nearest Target. The drive through the canyon is scenic, but one of the my favorite views in the world is on the trip back.

As you round the last curve the Pacific stretches out directly in front of you. Several hundred feet below on your left is the Pacific Coast Highway with Malibu State Beach just beyond. And along the foot of the mountain on the right spreads out the campus of Pepperdine. It is a magnificent sight. Pepperdine is situated where the mountains meet the sea.

The next morning I sat on the patio at our hotel, enjoying my coffee, and watching at least a half dozen dolphins about 30 yards off shore. Feeding and frolicking - a mesmerizing sight.

Later that morning we walked along the beach in Malibu, enjoying the cool ocean breeze and admiring the multimillion dollar homes lining that section of beach. The next day we drove to Santa Barbara - the 'American Riviera' - where the harbor is full of yachts and sail boats, and the median home price is $900,000.

In the midst of this opulence are homeless people sleeping on the beach. There are migrant farm workers harvesting grapes in the vineyards and produce from the fields. There are hundreds of people in the service industry working in resorts, hotels, restaurants. Along Venice Beach, one of the country's most eclectic locations, there are various 'artists' trying to get by selling their wares, and there are languages being spoken from all over the world.

In the midst of the natural beauties of the mountains and the ocean are freeways, several lanes wide and packed with cars. There is air thick with smog. There is a difference of nearly 20 degrees in the temperature of the coastal areas and that of the valleys.

I do enjoy visiting California, but there just as anywhere else, what you see depends on what you are looking for.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Cutting the Fat

On the plane back from Los Angeles I was catching up on some reading, and this excerpt from The World is Flat caught my attention...

It's hard to create a human bond with e-mail and streaming Internet. The next day, I had dinner with my friend Ken Geer, who runs a media company that I discuss in greater detail later. Ken had a similar lament: So many contracts were going these days to the advertising firms that were selling just numbers, not creative instinct. Then Ken said something that really hit home with me: "It is like they have cut all the fat out of the business and turned everything into a numbers game. But fat is what gives meat its taste," Ken added. "The leanest cuts of meat don't taste very good. You want it marbled with at least a little fat."

The flattening process relentlessly trims the fat out of business and life, but, as Ken noted, fat is what gives life taste and texture. Fat is also what keeps us warm.

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently ordered across the board cuts of 10% from the operating budgets of all state agencies. He has made it an annual practice to order cuts of 10-15% every year since he became governor. State agencies responsible for functions such as child support collections, child protective services, children's health insurance, health and family services - all have been reduced by 25-40% over the past few years. It occurs to me that we have gone well beyond cutting the fat to cutting into the marrow that provides life support to the most vulnerable among us.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Faith-Based University

When Lauren decided to go to Pepperdine, we didn't really know much about the university. Coming from a Harding background, we sort of had the impression that Pepperdine was a distant cousin in the church of Christ higher education family; that it gave lip service to its Christian heritage, but was really more of a secular institution with all the shallow and glamorous trappings of the rich and famous Malibu lifestyle.
We couldn't have been more wrong. The school's mission statement gives a glimpse into the nature of the university...
Pepperdine is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.
As we learned more about Pepperdine and experienced it with Lauren, we became more and more impressed with its spiritual purpose - It is the purpose of Pepperdine University to pursue the very highest academic standards within a context that celebrates and extends the spiritual and ethical ideals of the Christian faith. When Taylor decided to attend Pepperdine as well, we were pleased with his decision and confident that he would receive not only a fine academic education, but one that would help shape and mature his faith and prepare him for a life of service.
Our confidence was only reinforced by the remarks of President Andy Benton at the opening assembly Tuesday evening of New Student Orientation. As he spoke of the heritage of the university, of the direction set by its former leaders, the themes of faith, purpose, service, and excellence were woven throughout. In introducing the new students and their parents to the university he spoke of how the Dead Sea became dead because it receives and does not give; he spoke of how one plaintive voice can be hauntingly beautiful, but power comes from multiple voices lifted together; to illustrate he lead the group in singing Amazing Grace. He established a tone and challenged the students to a high standard for their time at Pepperdine.
While it is a place of great physical beauty, it is anything but shallow.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

One Week Later...

Taylor and I left around 7:15 CST last Sunday morning, and approximately 900 miles later stopped for the night about 8:30 PST in Tucson. We hit some pretty heavy rain about 50 miles this side of El Paso, and saw some pretty amazing lightning in Arizona. Also one of the more magnificent sunsets I have ever seen.

I had made this trip once before with Lauren, and everything was brown and dry then. I was amazed at how green everything was in west Texas and all the way across southern New Mexico. Arizona was pretty rugged, but we didn't truly hit desert until mid-Monday morning as we crossed into California. From the state line to well past Palm Springs, it was hot, dry, and desolate. The temperature ranged from 108-111. There was one gas station about halfway between Blythe and Palm Springs, and regular undleaded cost $3.99 per gallon. Fortunately, we didn't need gas at that point. Prices that we saw in the Los Angeles area ranged from $3.07 - $3.39.

After crossing the desert, we initiated Royce II and Royce III to the delights of the In and Out Burger in Loma Linda. We reached the end of the interstate at Santa Monica, took a right, and rolled into Malibu around 4:30 Monday afternoon. Barbara had flown in earlier that afternoon and was already checked in to our hotel. After dinner we discovered, to her dismay, that there is no longer a Ben and Jerry's in Malibu.

The next morning Taylor and Royce got checked in for New Student Orientation, got their student IDs, and checked into their dorm. The rest of the day was spent moving their stuff and setting up their room. Although there are a couple of palm trees impeding their view slightly, you can see the Pacific from their window. Promises to be a tough semester...After a trip to Target, Orientation officially began that evening...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Emptying the Nest

Taylor and I will be leaving first thing tomorrow morning to make the 22 hour drive from Richardson to Malibu. It's hard to believe that the time has come, but he seems ready to go. His Explorer is all packed and he is enjoying Dave Matthews tonight. Time surely does not slow down as it passes.

I just checked the weather forecast for Malibu - it looks like they are expecting a heat wave. The highs this past week have been in the mid 70's, but for next week it looks like they are going to get up into the low 80's. I'll try to survive...

It has been 6 weeks since my knee surgery. My knee looks pretty normal now, with the addition of 5 little scars and a couple of lumpy places. It feels pretty good, and I am able to extend it to within a couple of degrees of straight. I've been bicycling for a couple of weeks now, and have added small doses of the elliptical trainer. We took an easy hour ride this morning with no ill effects. It does look like I will have to forego rollerblading at the beach on this trip. Maybe next time...
I probably won't have much opportunity to post this week, so until next week may the Lord bless you and keep you.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

There but for the Grace of God...

There was an excellent column in the Religion section of the Morning News yesterday about Mel Gibson's drunken tirade and the backlash that it has sparked. One line in that column specifically grabbed my attention:

The episode could be a moment of conversion, too, for all of us high-minded commentators who take comfort in not being like that booze-addled anti-Semite.

I thought about that statement; I thought about Chuck Adair and his story as he related it last week; I thought about a former president who was ridiculed with such relish by the 'right'eous for his moral failings; I thought about about a number of people whose shortcomings have been exposed in a public or not so public way.

I was reminded again that while I am very much the sinner in need of mercy, in my own mind's eye I am more often the pharisee thankful that I am not like those sinners or others that I encounter on a daily basis. In reality, I just haven't been so publicly exposed. My lust, my pride, my selfishness, my arrogance, my deceit, my lack of trust - these are all my hidden secrets.

Only they are not hidden from the One who knows my heart. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The World Is Flat

In the first chapter of The World Is Flat Thomas Friedman identifies what he describes as 3 eras of globalization. Globalization 1.0 was characterized by political and economic relationships among and between governments. Globalization 2.o was characterized by international collaboration and competition among businesses and corporations. The first half of this era was driven by advances in transportation; the second half by advances in technology, especially telecommunications. The current era, Globalization 3.0, is characterized by individuals having the power to compete and collaborate on a global level.

In one illustration, he uses the example of airline reservations/ticketing. In a globalization 1.0 era, all ticketing is done manually and is on paper. In a globalization 2.o era, ticketing may be done electronically, but is still controlled by the airline or travel agent. In globalization 3.0 the passenger makes his reservations, pays, and prints his own boarding pass all from the convenience of his own home.

Thinking about how to do church and missions, there may be some parallels to consider as the world around us changes ever more rapidly. I'm not sure what missions looks like in a globalization 3.0 era, but I have the feeling it is much more about individual interactions than organized, structured efforts.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

30 Days

The FX network is featuring a series called Thirty Days, where a person with a strong belief or opinion spends 30 days living with a family who holds the opposite view. The concept is that the participants will get beyond stereotypes and develop a deeper understanding and mutual respect for each other. The phrase "walk a mile in my shoes" might be applicable.

One of the greatest benefits for both youth and adults who participate in mission trips is the opening of their eyes that occurs from living for a short while in another environment. As I ponder what I can apply from these concepts, this recent gracemail from Edward Fudge comes to mind.
(gracEmail) natural evangelism
Edward Fudge
Aug 08, 2006


One gracEmail subscriber draws back from the thought of approaching strangers to distribute evangelistic leaflets. Another subscriber feels unable to engage in door-to-door "cold campaigning" such as is done by Jehovah's Witnesses but also feels guilty in this regard. A third subscriber rejects such outreach methods as impersonal, insisting that evangelism requires a personal relationship to be genuinely authentic. And a fourth subscriber suggests that not every Christian is gifted to be an evangelist, just as not all are teachers, pastors or prophets.
* * *
Clearly the "E-word" has fallen into disrepute among many Christians today. This demise of evangelism has resulted partly from fear and cowardice, partly because of the church's infection by a popular culture which abhors religious conviction, and partly in reaction to t he distasteful antics of some whose zeal exceeds their knowledge and good manners. Not all believers are called to be evangelists (Eph. 4:11-13), but all have a part in the evangelistic mission of the church. Indeed, the apostle Paul in Colossians 4:2-6 offers a series of guidelines for everyday living which result in a natural process of evangelism that is respectful, winsome and effective.

"Devote yourselves to prayer," he says first, "keeping alert," always "praying that God will open a door for the word." God himself prepares lives to receive the gospel, opens hearts to hear it, and gives faith to receive it. We ask him to do all that, then we watch to see where he is working so we can join in what he is doing. "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders," the apostle continues. Our own daily lives usually provide the connection with others whom God will touch through our efforts. Our consistent, observable conduct also len ds credibility to our conversation when the time comes to speak a gospel word about Jesus and God's love revealed in him.

"Making the most of the opportunity," Paul concludes. "Let your speech always be with grace." When God provides an open door and an open heart, we need to speak clearly and courageously, but also graciously and with sincere respect for each individual we address. As we regularly do these things, God uses us in his great saving purpose. This is about God's agenda and he is responsible for the results.

Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby granted to reprint this gracEmail in its entirety without change, with credit given and not for financial profit. To visit our multimedia website, click here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Central Dallas Opportunity

If you haven't kept up with what's been happening at Central Dallas Ministries, you have missed out on some exciting news. CDM recently received a $12 million tax credit from the Texas Department of Housing and Urban Affairs to help offset the cost of renovating CityWalk @ Akard, a 15 story downtown building that has been vacant for several years. As Larry James has described it in his blog,

"We plan to develop 200 high-quality, affordable apartments for low-income, working people in the 15-story building that has been vacant for almost 15 years.

Fifty of these units will be reserved for formerly homeless persons. Nine of the units will be offered at market rate. We also plan for some light retail on the ground floor and approximately 35-40 Central Dallas Ministries' staff members will office in the building daily.

The building also contains a 300-seat auditorium that we will restore for use by arts, music, dance and theater groups, as well as faith communities and groups who reside in the building."

This project has the potential to help transform a community that is desparately in need and to greatly expand the reach of service provided by Central Dallas Ministries. In today's post on his blog, Larry has taken the uncharacteristic step of asking readers for financial support for this project. I believe this project will be good for Dallas, and even better for God's kingdom. I have already responded, and hope that you will to. You can make a secure online donation here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Prodigal

Dwight was on vacation today. Chuck Adair preached this morning in his absence. His text was Luke 15. I can't think of anyone more suited to speak from the perspective of the prodigal son. Chuck's openness in taking responsibility for his actions, his brokenness, and his subsequent recognition of and acceptance of God's grace are the embodiment of the reconciliation Jesus describes in this parable. I have confidence that God will do great things through Chuck in ministry to those who are in prison and those who are transitioning out of prison.

Coincidentally, I had chosen Luke 15 to discuss in the Covenant class this morning. I believe that the primary group Jesus is speaking to in these three parables is the pharisees and teachers who were mumbling about his associating with sinners. I think that we sometimes focus so much on the repentance of the younger brother and the acceptance of the father that we overlook the character that I think was Jesus' main point - the older brother and his attitude. I am proud of Skillman and how we have responded to Chuck since his release from prison.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Nonconformed but Engaged

One of the ways that we have described a missional church is that it is one where there is a balance between being not conformed to the world and and at the same time engaged with it. We are called to be both set apart from the world and to be in it; to be different but to relate or connect with the world. On one end of the continuum nonconformity might take the form of a monastery or an Amish community; on the other end it is impossible to distinguish the church from the world around it. To be missional means finding a balance.

This morning Matt Luna was speaking to the Men's Breakfast group about the weeks he had spent in China earlier this summer. He was describing what it was like to live for a short time in a foreign culture, and that the group of 12 college students and staff members from Campus Crusade became very close almost by necessity. They learned to trust one another and depended upon each other. It struck me that he was describing something very similar to what we had been talking about. He was with a group of exchange students in a Chinese university. They were surrounded by a different culture, different language, different food, different people. They were obviously different (nonconformed) from the world in which they were living, but were deliberately engaged with the people they encountered each day. Not a bad model...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Minimum Wage

This past weekend the US House passed a bill raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25, to be phased in over a period of 2 years. This evening the Senate rejected the bill. Without getting into a discussion on the various tax cuts that were also a part of the bill and the political motives that led to its defeat, and without considering the percentage that congressional salaries have increased in the 9 years since the last minimum wage increase, I want to focus for just a bit on the minimum wage itself.

Consider a full time worker, working 40 hours per week for 52 weeks a year. At the current minimum wage level of $5.15 per hour, that worker would earn $10,712 annually. At a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the annual earnings would increase to $15,080. He or she might also be eligible for a tax credit of between $400 and $4000. For the sake of argument, let's assume our worker is married with 2 small children, is never absent from work, and is eligible for the maximum tax credit. At the current $5.15 per hour the family income would be approximately $15,000; at $7.25 it would be slightly more than $19,000. The 2006 federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $20,000.

The current minimum wage leaves an earner well below the poverty level, and a proposed 40% increase would almost get a worker up to the poverty level. To help put that in context, take the Poverty Tour.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pro Life...

Sunday's Morning News featured an interview with Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. I was impressed by his response to a question on how his agenda, as a Republican and an evangelical, differed from that of a standard Christian conservative...
I'm not sure that it differs. I think it may expand, in that sometimes Christian conservatives are perceived only to care about a child prior to his birth. I think if we're truly going to be faithful to an evangelical worldview, our concern for the child only starts before his birth. I'm pro-life, which means I care about the child not only before he's born, but I want to make sure after he's born that he's going to be healthy, well-educated, that he'll live in a safe neighborhood, that he'll be able one day to get a good job and provide for himself. For me, that's an equally important part of being pro-life as to say I don't want to see him get aborted. Also, I don't want to abort his opportunities by policies that will be an impediment to him after he's born.

That's a definition of pro-life that I can live with.