Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Blessing

Below is the blessing I gave to the Skillman congregation on New Year's eve...

Throughout the history of God's people there are accounts of a blessing being given to mark times of transition. As I look at some of these blessings, many are accompanied by a charge. As the Israelites were about to enter into the promised land, and Moses was about to hand over the mantle of leadership to Joshua, he recounted their journey, charged them to remain faithful, and then blessed them.

This seems to be God's intent as recorded in Genesis 18 - "Should I hide my plan from Abraham?" the LORD asked. "For Abraham will become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the LORD and do what is right and just. Then I will do for him all that I have promised."

Centuries later, the prophet Micah reiterated a similar charge to God's people - He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God?

A few hundred years later, as Jesus was nearing the end of his ministry on earth he elaborated on what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God - The King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' And the King will tell them, 'I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

This morning, as we acknowledge the transition from one year to the next, my charge to you is to feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, visit the sick and those who are in prison - to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.

And then may your land be blessed by the Lord with the choice gift of rain from the heavens, and water from beneath the earth; with the riches that grow in the sun, and the bounty produced each month; with the finest crops of the ancient mountains, and the abundance from the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of the one who appeared in the burning bush. May the Lord bless you and keep you; May His face shine upon you and give you peace.

Friday, December 29, 2006

2 Days Left...

Just a friendly reminder for anyone who is contemplating a tax-deductible year end contribution - Central Dallas Ministry's campaign to raise $100,000 from the blog reading community continues for two more days (although I feel fairly confident that Larry and the folks at CDM will accept donations in 2007 as well - somehow, I doubt that the need will lessen with the dropping of the ball at midnight on the 31st)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Homeless at Christmas

Christmas morning Barbara and I joined about a half dozen other families from Skillman and handed out bagged breakfasts to 208 homeless people as they checked out from the Hyatt Regency, where they had spent Christmas Eve courtesy of the SoupMobile, a non-profit mobile soup kitchen feeding the homeless in Dallas. The SoupMobile was founded and is operated by David Timothy, aka the SoupMan.

As we were getting set up that morning, David met with us for a few minutes. He said that we had 2 tasks. The primary task was to make eye contact, greet and acknowledge the humanity of each of the people as they checked out. Of secondary importance was handing each of them one of the breakfast bags that had been prepared.

As they came through the lobby, we greeted them and gave them the breakfast bags; they got on buses that would take them to the day resource center. Afterwards we got into our cars, went to our homes, and celebrated Christmas with our families. I am thankful for a healthy family, a comfortable home, for not having to worry about where my next meal will come from, and so much more, but as we celebrated the birth of Jesus, I wondered - if he had been born in Dallas this year, would it possibly have been to one of the people on the buses?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ain't It Too Bad...

Adapted from a recent Heartlight...

In one of the All in the Family episodes that aired some years ago, Edith and Archie are attending Edith's high school class reunion. Edith encounters an old classmate by the name of Buck who, unlike his earlier days, had now become excessively obese. Edith and Buck have a delightful conversation about old times and the things that they did together, but remarkably Edith doesn't seem to notice how extremely heavy Buck has become.

Later, when Edith and Archie are talking, she says in her whiny voice, "Archie, ain't Buck a beautiful person?" Archie looks at her with a disgusted expression and says: "You're a pip, Edith. You know that. You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp."

Edith gets a puzzled expression on her face and says something unknowingly profound, "Yeah, ain't it too bad." (Christian Globe)

Ain't it too bad how often we fail to see with the eyes of the Savior whose birth we have been celebrating, who came to give his life that ALL might live - not just those who look like us, think like us, or act like us. If you are contemplating new year's resolutions, at the top of the list, try to start seeing others the way that Jesus did -- as eternal persons worth saving, at any cost, no matter what they choose to think about him or how much they resemble us!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Steve Blow on Public Schools

I haven't written much on the topic of education, but I thought Steve Blow's column in Sunday's Morning News expresses some of my thoughts pretty well...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I was browsing in a used-book store the other day and came across a wonderful book. And of course, by "wonderful" I mean one that said just what I believe.
But where my beliefs have been based on personal observation, this book was full of hard data to prove the point. And that point is: Generally speaking, our public schools are doing just fine.
You sure don't hear many people preaching that idea, do you?
The book is The Manufactured Crisis – Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools. It was written by a couple of professors, David C. Berliner of Arizona State University and Bruce J. Biddle of the University of Missouri.
"This book was written in outrage," say the opening words of their preface. "We discovered how Americans were being misled about schools and their accomplishments."
After scanning the book, I flipped to the front to see when it was published. Copyright 1995.
Wow, I thought. Criticism of public education has only intensified since then. I wondered if the professors have since decided the critics were right – or if they are still outraged.
Dr. Berliner didn't miss a beat when we spoke last week. "I'm still outraged," he said.
Schools haven't worsened?
"No!" he said.
"In fact, I'd say the classes we are graduating today are the brightest, best-trained students America has ever produced."
He said SAT scores have climbed over the last decade. More students are enrolled in demanding Advanced Placement classes. Standardized test scores are up.
But Dr. Berliner and Dr. Biddle were both quick to say it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion about "public schools" – as if they can all be lumped under one term. Schools vary far too widely for that.
Dr. Biddle said, "In wealthier suburbs, like those around Dallas, you will find some of the absolute best public schools in all the world.
"On the other hand," he said, "in some inner cities, in places like the South Bronx or East St. Louis, Ill., you will find some of the worst schools in the modern, civilized world. They are unbelievably rotten places."
Unfortunately, the professors said, Americans tend to think of "public schools" as one thing. And the pockets of failure overshadow the far broader landscape of public-school success.
As I said, my views have been shaped by personal observation. With two children educated in public schools, with a wife teaching in public schools, with a job that takes me into many public schools, I mostly see bright, capable kids in orderly, focused schools.
Yet on an almost daily basis I hear from readers about the failure of our schools. An e-mail last week referred to the "cesspool" of public education.
The professors said this perception stems from a variety of sources. Part of it is simply the timeless tendency of oldsters to fret about "these kids today." Partly it's our fault in the media for playing up isolated horror stories.
A big part is the growing hostility toward anything governmental, regardless of success. (Rush Limbaugh repeatedly refers to "our public screw-els.")
The worst part, the professors said, is a deliberate, deceitful campaign by some to discredit public education and profit from privatization. "This is not an unmotivated group," Dr. Biddle said. "They are not shy about lying and creating all sorts of propaganda."
Because we have such a distorted view of our schools, we keep getting wrongheaded attempts to "fix" them, the profs said.
Poor, inner-city schools need much more money – for smaller classes, for longer days, for experienced teachers and other proven strategies. "The myth says money won't improve schools. That's just nonsense," Dr. Biddle said.
On the other side of the coin, successful schools get saddled with things like standardized, high-stakes testing, which does far more harm than good, Dr. Berliner said.
We've got to get smarter about our schools. Let's fix what needs fixing – and as the saying goes, stop trying to fix what ain't broke.
Sure, let's keep striving to improve. But for most of our public schools, a little more praise and respect is what they need most.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Basketball Season is a Busy Time

Since basketball season has begun I have not had the time nor energy to write at night. It's hard to realize it has been more than 2 weeks since I last blogged - I'll try to get to it at least a couple of times a week....

Quote for the day - I believe that the Word of God is inspired; my understanding and interpretation of it is not...Harold Curtis this morning in Bible class.

Thanksgiving was relatively low key this year. Both kids were home for a few days. Watched some football, saw a couple of movies, ate some good food, and just relaxed and enjoyed each other. On Thursday morning, we did the traditional turkey trot in downtown with about 30,000 other people. Lauren ran the 8 mile race in under an hour; Barbara and Taylor did the 3 mile run; My knees and I waited for all of them at the finish line...

One scene remained with me - As I was walking from the start/finish line to a vantage point a couple of blocks away where I could see the runners going by, I walked by the downtown library. There were about a dozen homeless people sitting on benches outside the library, patiently waiting for the shelter to open that would serve them a Thanksgiving meal. It was a beautiful morning and I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of gentlemen.
As I went on to see the runners I couldn't help but ponder the irony of all those thousands of people choosing to travel to downtown that morning. They/we would return to the comfort of a home and a good meal, leaving behind those people who had no choice but to remain on the street, wondering where their next meal would come from.