Sunday, January 31, 2010

Unsolicited Advice to A Pastoral Search Team

Today’s Episode of The First Reece is being preempted for a personal message to the committee charged with finding a new Pastor for Highpointe Church. The usual mix of laughter, wit and inspiration will resume tomorrow.

Dear Pastoral Search Committee:

In the January 4, 2010 entry of this blog I observed that “Some board or committee or other entity is going to read resumes and interview candidates, and present me with my new pastor”. I now know who the members of that committee are. You are all good people; Godly people; people whose judgment I trust. And so it is with excitement I await your findings. Meantime, I wish to offer this unsolicited advice.

Don’t try to replace Darren & Michelle Pilcher. They are irreplaceable. If God moved them on, then God has an incredible plan for Highpointe Church. That plan is what we seek.

Don’t get in a hurry. In the Kingdom of God timing is everything. But that timing is God’s timing. At the right time he will open the right door and we will have the right Pastor. In the meantime there’s a whole ball team’s worth of able preachers and teachers to tend the flock! Fat and sassy with ministerial excellence, are we!

Throw out the man-made model. God gave a multitude of ministry gifts to the church, but somewhere along the way the “modern” church changed the plan. The term “Pastor” has been redefined to become a person of many hats. In churches all over America they no longer have Evangelists preach – the Pastor does it. He gave Teachers to expound his doctrine…but now that’s the job of the Pastor. Administrative gifts…God gave us a slew of them. But many Pastors make all the decisions, by force or desire. I don’t mean to imply that Highpointe Church has ever followed this pattern, but many do.

Oh, a Pastor may ultimately do all those things, and more. But first and foremost, he is the shepherd of the sheep. So give me a Pastor who has the heart of a Pastor. I’m not interested in how large the congregation can grow. I’m not impressed by multiple services or satellite locations. If it happens, it happens. But when it happens will my Pastor still know my name, what I do for a living, and what gifts God has placed in me? Here’s what I want in a Pastor – someone who has a picture of me in his heart!

Sound selfish? Perhaps. But remember what Paul said in Ephesians 4 – my Pastor is God’s gift to me!

So if there is a litmus test for the position of Pastor, it’s this: Would he leave the ninety and nine, and seek the one? Find a Pastor who would seek to know his sheep; who would seek to tend his sheep… and you will have done a good thing!

I know you folks already know all this. I just wanted to make it look like it was my idea!

And by the way…thank you for your service!

Sincerely, Reece

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The African in the Closet

The year is 1900, or 1800…..or 1700, it doesn’t matter. The point is that it’s not current times. The place is Africa – a tribal village in the darkest depths of the jungle. The people are cannibals, feasting on the captured of other tribes, or missionaries whenever possible. The focus is on one of the natives. He’s the alpha male; leader of the pack. In modern day Sicily he would be the Godfather, but we’re not in modern day Sicily, we’re in ancient Africa. This chieftain is naked except for a breech-cloth (which is probably to accommodate modern day TV viewers). He’s tall but pot bellied, and adorned in an elaborate headdress of feathers and bones, like the bone through his pierced nose. He holds a six foot long spear decorated to match his headgear, and he’s standing impatiently in front of a large black pot over a blazing fire…waiting for it to boil.

My maternal grandmother was a sweet lady – we called her Nanny. She was a member of the 20th century, born six years after its beginning and dying 2 years before its end. Back then men went out to build something or kill something, and the wives and mothers and grandmothers made the house a home with their cooking and cleaning…and sewing and cooking… and cooking. This was my Nanny, and every summer we grandkids would take 2 week turns enjoying the fruits of her labors. Oh yeah, and she took us fishing!

I’ve introduced you to two people. Right now you are probably wondering what one has to do with the other.

I was a young adult, and had dropped by to visit my aging Nanny. She bustled around getting bedding together and making sure I would be comfortable during my overnight stay. They she said something funny…something so funny that it has been fodder for hilarity in my family for decades now.

“If you get cold there’s an African in the closet!”

Now, if I had just told you about my Nanny and what she said, you may have pictured Martin Luther King or someone you work with. But this is my story, a boy raised on Saturday Morning episodes of Tarzan. And so I painted for you the picture conjured in my mind when I was told I could warm up with the “African in the closet”! That boiling pot would have warmed me for sure!

In case you missed it altogether, she was saying, “There’s an afghan in the closet.” Nanny wasn’t skilled in the Queens’ English, but she did crochet a warm afghan, and her love for us was even warmer! Please know it’s not my intention to disrespect Africans, or to make fun of my Nanny - but to preserve a fond memory of her as she was.

There were a few other words for which she had unique pronunciations. So next time you see my mom or my brother…or one of my sisters, ask the question, “Do you have a koop'-un so I can buy some bat'-trees for my kam'-rey? I want to take a picture of the African in the closet!”

Just watch out for that spear!

West Wingin’ It

One morning a few weeks back I was getting ready for work, and as usual I turned on the television to check the morning news, weather and traffic. I accidentally ran across a rerun of The West Wing, airing on a cable channel. My first thought was, “I could call in sick!” I really believe that if there would have been a second episode airing, I would have found a way to stay home and watch it.

While I am a man of deep convictions, I have endeavored in this blog not to talk religion or politics, lest it become just another rant from another zealot that would go largely unread, even by those who love me most. But since I brought up the subject, I will confess that I am unashamedly evangelical in my religious beliefs and conservative in my politics. If you are not, that’s ok with me.

See, while my opinions on most things political tend to align with those of the Republican Party, I am able to see clearly why Democrats believe what they do. You don’t have to agree with somebody to understand…even appreciate their viewpoint. In fact, with few exceptions I believe most of us want the same things; to feed the poor, to clothe the naked and to bring comfort to those who mourn. The difference is in the method.

When the Star Spangled Banner or God Bless America is being played, I think it doesn’t matter whether you are Republican or Democrat…your hand goes to your heart. And if you’re like me, you pretend to have a sniffle, to mask the tears beginning to well up.

And that brings me back to the show “West Wing”. I’ve been asked, “How can you watch that show? It’s a show where the liberals are in charge. The bills they support and the policies they advocate are contrary to what you believe.” And in many cases that is true. Sometimes I just have to grimace when I hear something about the outlawing of guns or making abortion more readily available. It’s those times I have to look past the dialogue and recognize the character behind it.

See, it’s the patriotism that draws me in; the respect shown the President of our United States; the love of country depicted in the characters that chose to pursue a career in politics because of their desire to see things made better. The writing is nothing less that excellent; laced with just the right amount of wit and humor. The acting, with few exceptions, is top notch. And I often find myself sniffling to mask the tears that are beginning to well up.

This evening my next door neighbor, Patrick, brought over the whole first season on DVD for me to watch. I just finished episode three and am writing this as fast as I can, anxious to get back to “my” show.

God Bless you, Patrick…and God Bless America.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Little Blue Pill

My e-mail box at work has this feature where it diverts junk mail into a holding box. I go into that box once every couple of weeks or so, and do a quick scan for any valid messages that may have been flagged improperly. I seldom find real messages there, and when I do it’s usually one day after the deadline for the matter being addressed.

But it’s not really the prospect of finding good messages that keeps bringing me back to the Junk Mail Box. It’s the fakes that make it all worthwhile - they can be so entertaining. There are several types of junk messages that seem to be making the current rounds:

“Your bank needs updated information”. Frankly, anybody that clicks on that one probably deserves what they get! (Did I say that out loud?)

How about the “Let’s get acquainted” message – usually from a girl with a foreign sounding name, like Ingrid or Brigitte...or Anastasia. I’m supposed to think she wants to get to know me because, even though she’s absolutely gorgeous and the life of the party, she has trouble getting men to chat with her. (Hint – it’s really a 60 year old fat guy with hair growing out of his moles.)

For some reason I get a lot of junk mail wanting to sell me a watch. These are obviously from people that have read my blogs about my Rolex Watch.

What I get the most are ads to sell me little blue pills. For those of you too innocent to know, that is referring to Viagra, a medicine to treat a malady known as ED - (look it up). Please tell me you get these ads too! Surely I haven’t been singled out.

But the funniest ones of all are the messages that show my own e-mail address as the sender. Hey, if “I” sent the e-mail I would have known it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have sent myself an e-mail at all. I would have just told myself directly, or written myself a note.

But then I remembered the movie “Sybil”. So I guess there is the possibility that I have multiple personalities, and am trying to communicate with myself. So far I haven’t answered myself. I keep deleting my e-mails. I’m probably pretty frustrated with me by now.

But then…I’ve got to wonder…why would I want to sell myself Viagra? Do I know something I don’t know?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Time for a Social Check-Up?

Somebody once said “no man is an Island”. Actually it was the same guy that said not to ask “for whom the bell tolls”. That sounded like good advice to me, so I didn’t ask. Anyway, I’ve seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” so I know “whom” the bell tolls for. That’s how Clarence the Angel got his wings! But back to the island thing – the point is that everybody wants to belong.

When you’re a kid you see a group of kids hanging out, and you gravitate to them. Usually they look at you funny for a minute, and then invite you to play. And before you know it you’re the new 3rd baseman for the sandlot team.

But the older you get the harder it gets to fit in. In my high school we had three distinct groups - hippies, jocks and goat ropers. I was in the fourth group…everybody else. See, my hair wasn’t long and I didn’t do drugs so I didn’t fit in with the hippies. And while I had as much athletic ability as the next guy, I wasn’t on the team. And I didn’t own a horse…or a goat! So I muddled through - one of the nameless, faceless.

By the time you’re an adult there’s a name for this whole belonging thing – cliques. Cliques are socially driven, and by their nature, exclusive. That’s all well and good, as long as you’re not the one being excluded. Cliques are everywhere…like that group at work that goes to lunch together. By the way, your suspicions are well founded. They are talking about you behind your back.

And you know where these cruel and heartless assemblages seem to really thrive? At church! Now, you may be thinking, “there aren’t any cliques at my church”. That means one of two things – either you’re too blissfully ignorant of such things to notice, or you’re in the clique!

So, if you find yourself waiting for “certain” people to walk off before deciding which restaurant “everyone” is headed to; if you have to talk in code to keep from hurting someone’s feelings... you might want to do a social gut-check, maybe even a spiritual gut-check. The humility will do you good.

But don’t expect to start hanging out with me!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rocket Science Comes to Edmond

Ever been arrested? The closest I ever got to a jail cell was in Edmond, Oklahoma in the summer of ‘71. For all I know there may still be a warrant out for me.

If you are on Broadway and you drive straight north through Edmond, you will run smack into a cemetery. Now, behind that cemetery there used to be a drive in movie theatre, The Woodstock. It was small and showed 2nd rate movies, but it was close and it was cheap, and the local kids hung out there.

Calculating the angles and trajectories needed, factoring in the speed of the car and the length of the fuse… Rocket Science had come to Edmond...

Across the road from the drive-in was undeveloped land. Oh, it’s all houses now, but back then it was untouched by human hands…or at least by human bulldozers. Several hundred feet back from the road was a tree line, and what we referred to as “The Black Forest”. And that’s where it happened.

Three or four of us decided to camp out in the Black Forest one Friday night. So we pitched our tent and laid out our sleeping bags, and got all settled in for the night. Then we went on the prowl. First we went to town on our motorcycles and watched a movie at Edmond’s only indoor theatre. Then we grabbed some food and headed back to the tent. But we were bored, and it was still early, and… we had fireworks!

We were innocently popping our firecrackers and shooting our bottle rockets when one of the rockets strayed over in front of the drive-in movie screen, and exploded there…big as Dallas. Cool! So, what was at first an accident became a mission. We started firing our bottle rockets at the drive-in screen like four kids without a single brain cell among us.

Then I was stricken with a flash of genius. “Let’s shoot ‘em at cars!” Yeah…I know…it took a whole kettle of stupid to come up with that one.

Being a distant cousin of Johannes Kepler, I started calculating the angles and trajectories needed, factoring in the speed of the car and the length of the fuse… Rocket science had come to Edmond! And now a car turns onto Broadway headed north. Hold it…wait a second…not yet…not yet…NOW! I lit the fuse! The rocket shot out of the bottle, straight for the car, and in what must have been the most perfect mathematical calculation in the history of science, that rocket exploded just as it hit the windshield of that car…on the driver’s side!

Now I didn’t stop to think what effect it would have on the driver of that car. That would have been grown-up thinking – something I wasn’t capable of at that time. But what happened next was something I certainly didn’t anticipate. I mean, the forces of the universe just couldn’t be this cruel. Red lights started to spin. I SHOT A COP CAR!

The cop flipped on his spotlight and aimed it at the field. Remember, the tree line is several hundred feet back. Thankfully the field had some high grass in it, and when the spotlight came close to us we hit the ground, flat on our bellies. Then we got up and ran. Running and dropping - dropping and running... it was a scene out of "The Great Escape". Finally we made it to the trees. We scurried into our tent and zipped it up. We crawled inside the sleeping bags and zipped them up. But first we hid the fireworks and matches…inside the tent! Like I said… not a brain cell among us.

The cop never found our tent. Maybe he was afraid of the evil spirits in the Black Forest. But more likely the movie manager had called him to come out and run us off…and he accomplished that task. He DEFINITELY accomplished that task!

Apparently shooting a cop car isn’t so serious if you just do it with a bottle rocket. But I won’t be doing it again. I can’t run that fast any more.

Bottle rockets are illegal in Oklahoma now. It's known as Reece's Law!

Photo courtesy of NASA

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

All Out War

Did you catch the movie “American Graffiti”? It’s a rock-n-roll and hot-rods flick about one evening in the lives of a bunch of high school seniors in Southern California. The tagline for the film is the question “Where were you in ’62?”

I know exactly where I was in ’62. Dad and mom had purchased their first house, a quaint little tract home in a modest neighborhood in south OKC. It was a young neighborhood and it was full of first-time homeowners and renters, with small children like my brother, my sister and me. When the school bus stopped in the middle of our block it seemed like three hundred kids poured out, ready to play in the street until dinner call.

A few houses down lived this family I'll call the Sandersons (not their real name). The Sandersons were a different breed than us…in fact, different than most. The dad was kind of a shifty-eyed type; short in stature and grimy under the fingernails. And he was always swiggin’ a brew. The mom had a cigarette butt hanging out the side of her mouth and a perpetual snarl tattooed on her face…classic caricatures! And they had three kids close to our age.

Two of them were ok I guess, although I seem to remember the oldest being in trouble all the time. But their boy, Ricky, (not his real name) was the very definition of a juvenile delinquent! This boy was trouble with a capital T. If anything happened in the neighborhood the cops knew where to look. He threw rocks at windows, kicked dogs and went out of his way to make children cry. If someone was riding their bicycle down the street, he would run out and shove a stick through the spokes…just to see what would happen I guess.

And we were frequently the butt of his mischief. Time after time one of us would run in the house crying or angry about something Ricky Sanderson had done to us. And time after time dad would tell us to just shake it off. But then one day… one terrible and glorious day, dad had enough. And for as long as I live I will never forget what happened next.

Dad asked us to leave the room because he had a phone call to make. But being in the next room didn’t make any difference. We could hear every word dad said. I expect the neighbors could hear every word dad said. In fact, the Sandersons just lived down the street. I don’t know why he bothered to use the phone at all.

Ring-Ring. “Hello.” “Sanderson, this is Kepler. Sanderson, things are about to change. Either you start controlling that boy, or we’re gonna have ALL OUT WAR. Now Sanderson, your kids are bigger than my kids and they’ll probably whip my kids. And your old lady may or may not be able to whip mine. But I’ll tell you what, Sanderson, when you come out of your house in the morning to go to work I’m gonna be standing there and I’m gonna stomp you’re a-- through the driveway! And when you get home from work I’m gonna be waiting, and I’m gonna stomp you’re a-- through the driveway! And then, just before I go to bed, I’m gonna come over and drag you out of your house and stomp you’re a-- through the driveway. And I’m gonna do it three times a day, every day until your kids quit picking on my kids!” … and he hung up.

A few days passed, and our phone rang. “Mr. Kepler”, he said…this is “Mr. Sanderson”. Have my kids been behaving themselves ok?” “Yes, Sanderson, things seem to be better”.

Not too long after that the Sandersons moved away - and the neighborhood rejoiced! I think we threw a block party and danced in the nude! Maybe not.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction”? Well, a few days later a guy at my dad’s work told him, “Joe, you wouldn’t believe this family that moved in next door to us….!”


Monday, January 25, 2010

Run-Run-Run-Run Runaway

The story you are about to read is true. The names were not changed, because nobody was innocent.

I’m probably the only kid in America that ever asked permission to run away.

Back when I was about 16, my phone rang early one Saturday morning. It was my friend Mark calling to tell me he was frustrated with his parents and wanted to get away (translated, run away). I was concerned for him so I said, “Why don’t you spend the day with me before you do anything.” I had plans to go down to my uncle and aunt’s house for the day, so Mark tagged along.

This uncle and aunt’s house is kind of a destination for a lot of kinfolk, and that day was no exception. Not only was I headed down for the day, but another uncle and aunt, and their two kids were up from Dallas. It was, and is, an awesome place to spend the day. (For more on their place see my blog entry titled “Ole Blue”.) Now one of these two cousins I mentioned happens to be a girl, and my friend Mark kind of took a shine to my girl-cousin…and her to him. They flirted back and forth for most of the day.

Evening came and it was time to head for home. That’s when I called dad and asked permission to run away - with Mark. Dad said no, so I headed north to OKC. Mark headed to points unknown. A couple of days later they found him and his car somewhere out west…I don’t recall what state. What I do recall is what my dad said to the police when they knocked on our door. See, the police found out that Mark spent the day with me, and they wanted to know my aunt and uncle’s name so they could “interrogate” them, I guess. Dad refused the information. The cop demanded.

Then - dad pointed to the police car in our driveway and said, “In my entire life there has never been a police car at my house…either arrest me or get that black and white out of my driveway RIGHT NOW!” The names were not given. The car was moved. You had to know my dad!

But that’s not my only runaway story. Not too many months after that incident (or before, I’m not sure) two different girl-cousins were up from Dallas to visit our aunt here in OKC. (I have cousins by the dozens!) I introduced my friends Paul and Gary to these two girl-cousins, and we went on a triple date.

I don’t know what caused the pot to boil over, but for some reason Gary and Paul got upset and decided to run away. They stole Gary’s dad’s work car and headed south to Dallas. What’s funny is – the girl-cousins were still here in OKC! Anyway, they ran out of gas so they bartered the spare tire for more and kept driving until they ran out again, somewhere near Ardmore. They thumbed a ride the rest of the way to Dallas.

They spent a dark, cold, lonely night in a city park, scared half to death by some druggie homeless guy, and were so happy to get “caught” by the police. They ate Hostess Ding Dongs and drank Coca-cola and waited for their parents to come pick them up.

So if you’re really hacked off about something… if you’ve had enough and just aren’t gonna take it any more… you might consider running away from home. And hey, if you do, give me a call. I’ll see if I have a cousin available!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Our Kind of Folks

Every now and then God is feeling especially benevolent and he decides to give someone a gift too precious for words. For some reason He has chosen to bestow such an unfathomable gift upon Stephanie and me…and more than once. Let me tell you about one of those gifts.

When Stephanie and I visited Lakeside Church (since rebranded Highpointe Church) we met Pastors Darren and Michelle Pilcher. We quickly made the decision to join this church, and so we invited the Pastor’s family to our home for a meal and fellowship.

Of course, at that time we didn’t know the Pilchers very well, and they weren’t familiar with us either. That was one reason for the dinner – to get to know each other. If you’ve ever been invited by or invited folks you don’t know well, you know how uncomfortable such an evening can be. This one wasn’t.

From the moment Pastors Darren and Michelle, and their kids walked through our front door we could tell these were “our kind of folks”. I was out on the patio grilling the chicken, and Pastor Darren came out to chat with me. And while Stephanie was putting the finishing touches on her famous salad she and Michelle talked and laughed in the kitchen.

As the meal progressed so did the conversation. We talked about the fact that we grew up in the same denomination, the Assemblies of God. And we talked about our similar backgrounds, with Godly parents and ministerial work. We talked religion, we talked politics, we talked about kids and houses and cars. We could have talked all night. I didn’t want it to end.

There are certain things - subtle things - that let you know someone is comfortable with you. When Pastor Darren casually reached with his fork and stabbed a second chicken breast it told me two things. First, he approves of my grilling. Grilling is a source of pride for the American male…and I’m no exception. So for that I was proud. But it also showed me that this wasn’t just a pastor doing the obligatory dinner with the new members. These folks are REAL!

After dinner Pastor Darren, his son Ethan and I retired to the “man cave” to shoot pool, with a movie playing in the background. I think it was “Braveheart”. Pastor shot a pretty good stick! And Ethan even made a few good shots. All the while, Stephanie and Michelle were downstairs talking…and talking…and talking. Emma had discovered the dolls we have for our granddaughter, so everybody was in their element.

I remember telling Pastor Darren that if he ever needed to “get away” from having to be the straight-laced Pastor guy, just come on over and we’ll let our hair down. What I didn’t realize at that time was that Pastor Darren doesn’t do the straight-laced Pastor Guy. His hair is always down!

I could write about the churches Pastors Darren and Michelle have built, or the mission trips they have taken – ministering to thousands. I could write about the people they have prayed for and the words from the Lord they have delivered. Those stories would be many and they would be exciting. But what I wanted to write about tonight is simply how REAL these precious people are.

Pastors Darren and Michelle are moving into a new chapter in their lives and ministries, and so they are resigning as pastors. In fact, today was their final day of service to Highpointe, at least in the pastoral capacity. And while I am excited to see what new thing God has in store for the church, and how I will fit in with that new thing, I am saddened to see them go.

Pastors Darren and Michelle; thank you for your service. But especially, thank you for your friendship. It’s been… … … REAL!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Where Did You Come From?

Has anybody ever asked you, “Where did YOU come from?”

The year was 1570 and George Kepler lived in Ansbach, Germany. He had a son he named Andreas who had a son he named Johannes Kepler (not the famous one – probably his cousin or something).

Johannes Kepler had a son named Bernhardt, who had a son named Benedict, who went on to have a son of his own. He named him Andreas, after his great-great-grandfather.

By now it’s 1720, and Bernhardt, Benedict and Andreas all got on a ship, along with their families and belongings, and three generations of Keplers came to America! They had heard about William Penn’s big real estate deal and wanted a piece of the action. They settled in Bucks County, PA on land that is now a part of the City of Philadelphia.

Andreas (Andrew) had a son he named Andreas Jr, who grew up to fight in the revolution. He shot at British soldiers…and helped win us our independence. He then had himself a son he named John Kepler. John and his brother loaded up a buckboard and moved their families to Green Township, Ohio, now a part of the City of Canton. John died, along with the horse he rode in on, in a cider press accident (seriously), but not before he got married and had a son himself, John Kepler, Jr.

It’s now 1837 and John Jr. gets a son of his own. He named him Abraham. Another Abraham, surnamed Lincoln was elected President and the War Between the States broke out. So Abraham Kepler did his patriotic duty. He joined the 53rd Indiana Infantry and helped Sherman burn Atlanta. If you look real closely in Gone with the Wind…you won’t see him. That’s a fictional movie. Abraham Kepler was there for the real thing!

Abraham owned property in Indiana, and immediately after he was mustered out in July 1865 he went home and sold his land. Historians tell us that more soldiers died from dysentery than from combat in the Civil War, and Abraham was one of those unfortunate souls. In August of 1865 he died, leaving behind his widow and a son named William Henry Kepler.

William Henry grew up to be a minister. And he had a son named John Franklin Kepler, a shoe repairman by trade but a prayer warrior by calling. John Franklin was my grandfather, although I never met him. My dad told me that his dad, John Franklin wanted grandkids more than anything in the world. But in August 1951 he died, just a year and 6 days before his first grandchild was born.

As I said, John Franklin was my dad’s dad. My dad was named Joseph Kepler. He was a shoe repairman too, and a great man of God. He was my greatest hero, and in August of 2000 I had the honor of standing by his side and holding his hand at the moment he drew his last breath!

That’s where I came from. Thanks for asking.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

17 Millimeters of Sweet Success

I changed the oil in our car the other night. Now this may not seem noteworthy to you, but what you don’t know is that I haven’t changed the oil in a car in over 20 years. But with the economy like it is and finances a little tight we are doing what we can to conserve. A dime here, a dollar there…it adds up. Actually I didn’t save any money though - I used it to buy bullets for the next men’s breakfast at church. What can I say - Sometimes there’s not enough food to go around and it gets a bit ugly.

A trip to Wal-Mart for a basket full of stuff and I was ready to go. I found that oil now comes in 5 quart containers. I bought one. I also got a new oil filter and one of those drain-pans. You know, you drain the oil into it and tighten the cap. Then when you have time you drive it down to the auto center and pour it in their drum. So neat…so tidy….yeah, right! And I bought a wrench to remove the oil filter.

First one – too big! Next one – too small! This must be what Goldilocks felt like.

And by the way, our next men’s breakfast is at the gun range. That's really why I bought the bullets.

The first step in this task is to remove the plug and drain the old oil. At least I THOUGHT that was the first step. More about that later. Not having an automobile lift in my garage, I had to lie flat on my back to get to the drain plug. So I laid down and scooted under to feel the plug and see what size wrench I need. Like my fingers are a gauge or something! (I’d seen my brother do it, and he seemed to always get it right.) It felt like a 9/16ths to me…yep, definitely a 9/16ths. I got up, fetched the wrench and scooted under again. It wasn’t a 9/16th. Up again for a bigger wrench, I grabbed two just to be safe, and scooted under. It wasn’t a 5/8ths. It wasn’t an 11/16ths either.

What in the world is this crazy nut? Oh yeah, foreign car – think metric. I don’t own metric wrenches…only sockets, so I grabbed a 16 and an 18, just to be safe, and under I scooted… again! First one – too big! Next one – too small! This must be what Goldilocks felt like. On my 5th scoot-under I found it… 17 millimeters of sweet success. Off came the nut - and at that split second I realized it - the FIRST step to changing oil is to position the drain-pan under the plug.

Luckily this isn’t my first mess. So I have this big squirt bottle of purple stuff that cuts grease and oil. I’m proud to say there is NOT a permanent oil stain in the middle of my garage…just this really clean spot!

Finally...thankfully, my task was completed. The car has fresh oil, and I'm feelin' like a man. I will say this though… at least I have the drain-pan and filter wrench for next time… like there’s gonna be a next time!

There’s a certain satisfaction in a job well done. I guess that’s why those guys at the quick-change place are always smiling so big when I drive off. Ya think?

Photo Time to clean the oil filter used by permission

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Idaho on Route 66?

I’ve never been to Idaho. Or have I? In 1963, when I was 6 years old, our family took the now infamous Route 66 vacation. We drove west from Oklahoma City (it’s mighty pretty). We saw Amarillo and Gallop, New Mexico – Flagstaff, Arizona…well, you know the rest.

It was an awesome trip. We saw the Grand Canyon, drove across the Hoover Dam and down the Vegas strip. And we drove on some highway where there wasn’t a speed limit. The suitcases were strapped to the top of the station wagon, and they flew off onto the highway. We made it down to the San Diego Zoo and Marine Land of the Pacific. We spent a day at Disneyland, where we rode the Matterhorn and joined the Mickey Mouse club. Mom left her purse on the teacup ride. Way to go, mom!

We visited the Hollywood Wax Museum and Muscle Beach. Then we drove north, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I have no memories of San Francisco. We probably ate Rice-a-Roni. If not, we should have. One of my clearest memories is this cool coke machine that was outside our motel room. Kids have weird memories.

But what does all this have to do with Idaho? Well, we drove north out of California to visit dad’s brother, Uncle Ken in Eugene, Oregon, and then passed through Salt Lake City on the way back, and saw the Tabernacle. Looking at a map I’m guessing we drove through a part of Idaho.

So why am I writing about Idaho? Because I have friends in Idaho that are some of the most precious people I have ever known, and they read my blog. Don and Lois, I love you guys!

They say you know you’re from Idaho when you know why people would pay money to watch pig wrestling. I’m definitely not from Idaho.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Measuring Time

People tend to measure their lives by events - glorious events…tragic events. Their conversation gives it away. “That was before the baby was born…” Or “back when dad was alive…”

I was in the Oklahoma City Bombing. Oh, I wasn’t inside the Murrah Building, although I once took the air traffic controller’s exam there. And I wasn’t in one of the surrounding buildings that were damaged. I was working about a mile and a half away, and our building was not damaged. But we heard the blast, and we felt the shock. I remember thinking that for the rest of my life I would remember events as “before the bombing” or “after the bombing”.

I went that day to give blood. I felt I had to do something. But the line to give blood was estimated to be 3 hours long, and I had obligations, and so I had to get back to the office. Fortunately none of my friends or family died that day, although many fine people did. The body count ended up being 168; 171 if you count the unborn babies, which I do. And a fine memorial stands in their memory.

If you follow the news you know that two men have been convicted for that horrible act, and a third was given a plea bargain for his testimony. One has been executed. One will spend the rest of his life in prison. The third is already back on the streets – albeit in the witness protection program. I will not honor them by mentioning their names here.

Since that horrific day we have seen the tragic events of 9/11 – a day by which the entire world measures time. And we’ve seen tornados and hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes - all events that changed time, and lives.

There is coming a day the whole world will rest under the reign of the King of Kings, and we will no longer measure time. Even so, come quickly!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Talking Board

Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are when we would all pile into the car for a road trip. Sometimes we would drive to see family or friends. Sometimes we would drive to attend a tent revival or church service. Sometimes we would just drive. Dad was the kind of guy that couldn’t pass a winding road without heading down it to see what was around the next bend. And I’m afraid I inherited that from him. Just ask my wife.

I particularly remember a trip we took when I was in 5th grade. We drove to the next town to visit a couple who were friends of mom and dad, and who had kids about our ages. We always had fun there because…how shall I say this? They were just a bit more familiar with the ways of the world than we were. I don’t mean to be passing judgment or anything like that. That’s for the good Lord to sort out in his wisdom. We just lived a little on the sheltered side.

We had been there for a short time when one of their girls brought out a Ouija board. If you don’t know what a Ouija board is, you’re better off! But to appreciate this story you need a basic idea what I’m talking about. Ouija Board is the trademark for a board marketed by Parker Brothers, the game company that brings us Monopoly. It has letters and numbers printed on it and a pointer that glides over them. You and a friend sit with it between you and put your fingers on the pointer. Then you ask the board a question. The pointer is supposed to move around the board, stopping briefly on the letters that spell your answer.

The thing about it is you can never be sure the other person isn’t actually steering the pointer. In fact you’re pretty sure they are! For that reason people pass it off as just a silly game and think no more about it. But wait, did I say you can never be sure the other person isn’t moving the pointer?

I had a secret that nobody knew. I was sweet on this girl that lived around the corner. I would ride my bike around the block in hopes that she would be outside playing. If she wasn’t, I’d ride around again. I hadn’t told a soul about her. So now it was my turn to ask the board a question. “Ouija,” I said, “Do I have a girlfriend?” Y-E-S, it answered. Big deal, she’s moving the pointer. As cool a kid as I was, how could I not have a girlfriend. “Ouija, what is her name?” L-I-N-D-A--N-E-L-S-O-N.

You might think my brother or sister told her…but they didn’t know. Nobody knew. Admittedly I was excited at the prospect that Linda Nelson was really my girlfriend for real, and not just in my hopes and dreams! But even at such a tender age I realized, right then and right there, that these things are more than just toys. I didn’t know what the power was that drove them, but I knew it was real.

Soon thereafter my sister got her own talking board. Dad told us it wasn’t a good thing to have, but he didn’t forbid it. I think it was one of those things where he was still formulating his opinion. We would have friends over and get the board out. And it would talk - with one glaring exception. When dad would walk into the room it would stop. Dead still. Dad would leave the room and it would start up again. He would come back in and it would stop.

The bible is replete with references warning against divinations and fortune telling, mediums and channelers, and Dad soon realized, and caused us to realize that this talking board surely fell into one or more of those categories. We got rid of that thing!

Laugh if you will. But I believe there is a spiritual force – an evil force - at work with those “toys”. Just google it and you will see that many people have offered testimonials of bad experiences in their lives that can be traced to their involvement with such occult related things. God forbid that should happen to you or yours.

My earnest prayer is that, just as my father, I would be so full of the Spirit of God that were I to walk into a room, a talking board would fall mute.

And on a personal note - Linda, if you’re out there, you missed your chance… I’m taken!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Death by Smooching

Sometimes my wife leaves the house for the evening to go to a women’s function at the church, or to go to a scrapbooking party. I love it, because – see, we have cable TV and there are certain shows on the premium channels I just can’t watch with her in the house. NO – not those shows! Get your mind out of the gutter! I’m talking about westerns. She feels about westerns the way I feel about her Food Network cook-offs.

Being a child of the 60s I was raised on horse operas. A ten gallon hat, a pair of blazing six shooters and the smell of horseflesh fueled my imaginations. Back when Pat Robertson’s TBN network owned The Family Channel they showed a lot of my cowboy shows, and it was named one of the most violent channels on TV– because of all the violence in the horse operas!

Give me a break! Gunsmoke and Bonanza – Maverick and Paladin – these old black and white westerns are the most violent shows on TV? Have these people not seen today’s cop-show fare, with blood spurting out of bullet holes and body parts strewn across the screen? If you happened to read my story about my cowboy lamp, you already knew I was raised on those westerns, and there’s nothing wrong with me - wrong with me! Seriously though, on those shows the good guy always won, the bad guy always lost, and women and God were always shown the utmost respect… at least by the good guys. On these shows beer was consumed only in moderation and poker games were always kept on the up and up… at least by the good guys. And oh yeah, bullets didn’t leave holes – not even in their shirts!

Of course, that channel sold to another network that was absorbed into yet another network, and my cowboy shows had to find a new home. Thank the TV Gods for Encore Westerns!

But in all fairness I can’t really dispute that report naming those old westerns as violent. Actually there was a pattern of violence that was consistent and inevitable. Death by smooching! Think about it. Did a woman ever fall in love with a Cartwright and survive the entire episode? I remember seeing Little Joe kiss a girl, and thinking…boy, she’s a goner! And sure enough, before the credits rolled, she rolled – right into the graveyard!

In his song Shoulda Been a Cowboy, Toby Keith sang about Matt Dillon “He never hung his hat at Kitty’s place”. There was a reason for that. Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty, had a contract with the network, so they couldn’t kill her off. And you thought Matt just loved his horse more than his woman. Oh man… they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

So let me leave you with this piece of sage advice - sing it with me - ♫ Don’t fall in love with a Cartwright... ♫

Friday, January 15, 2010

'Ole Blue

I was about 16 and my Uncle Cecil and Aunt Frankie were building a new home down near the Texas State line (the real one, not some restaurant by that name). If you had a really good arm you could stand in their front yard and throw a rock into the river, if you could get it over the trees. What a cool place to live!

It was July and I was down there for a week to help with construction of the house. My cousin's cousin (but not my cousin), Ronnie Joe, was there too. After Ronnie Joe and I worked for what seemed like hours, but was probably just a few minutes, we would go jump into the Red River to cool off. So we put out some trot lines and started baiting and running them several times a day. Over the course of a week we pulled off over a hundred fish from those trot lines. Drum, alligator gar, other trash fish...but mostly catfish. Frankly it was a pretty brave thing for us to do. If you've ever had a face to face encounter with an alligator gar, you think twice about going into the river again without a wetsuit on.

I was imagining our picture in the local paper, then getting picked up by the AP and UPI... even going world-wide. We were sure to be famous!

It was early in the morning - the first run of the day, and Uncle Joe was back at the trailer cooking breakfast. Ronnie Joe and I were running the lines. And that's when we found it. On the farthest line from camp, the first line we ran, we pulled off a MONSTER fish. At first I was nervous, but this guy didn't seem too upset. In fact he seemed downright tame. So we commenced to put him on a stringer.

We wanted him "strung up" before we pulled the hook from his mouth because we were in his territory and he knew the lay of the land better than us. He might just be playing it cool to try and escape. We were using those fish stringers made of several metal hooks on a chain, at about 3" intervals - you know the kind I mean. We put THREE of those stringer hooks through his mouth, and then removed the fish hook. We were so excited about this monster fish, which was actually a blue cat, that we didn't even finish running the lines. We were headed back to camp to show Uncle Joe.

If you've ever swam in the Red River you know that the Texas side is the lower side, with sandy beaches. The Oklahoma side is the cliff side, with tree roots to hold onto while you climb out. At least that's how it is by Uncle Cecil's house. So we got out of the river on the Texas side and started walking back toward camp. I was carrying 'Ole Blue, and with me holding his head up by my side, his tail left a trail in the sand - about 8 or 10 inches wide. All the while I was imagining our picture in the local paper, then getting picked up by the AP and UPI... even going world-wide. We were sure to be famous!

We got downstream to our crossing point and waded across. I climbed up the bank first, while Ronnie Joe held 'Ole Blue. Then he handed me the end of the stringer and I started to lift 'Ole Blue out of the river. I pulled and tugged, but he was heavy. This wasn't a matter of lifting, but more of dragging the fish up the bank.'s the part you've been waiting for. That fish, 'Ole Blue straightened out all three of those stringer hooks, and slid right back down the bank, right through Ronnie Joe's legs, and back to his freedom in the Red River. I'm convinced that's how he had his escape planned all along.

Maybe we should have gone back and ran the rest of the lines, but we were too overcome with emotion to think straight. We ran all the way back to camp, babbling about this "monster" fish. Later that day Uncle Cecil went down to the river with us and saw the "evidence" - the trail in the sand left by 'Ole Blue's tail. At least we had that!

So next time you find yourself driving to Dallas, as you cross that bridge over the Red River that separates Texas from the Promised Land, give a shout out to 'Ole Blue. He's earned it!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A New Caboose

When I was 15 mom and dad called us kids together with some major news. We were turning the spare bedroom into a nursery. I was the youngest of three and dad always introduced me as “the caboose”. But suddenly, at 15 I found myself promoted (or was it demoted) to just another boxcar. The “oops” baby was born and she brought joy to all our hearts.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to laugh at, and sometimes it’s hard to know when to laugh. Something that is funny today may be just downright cruel hearted tomorrow, and vice versa. I remember when I was going through a painful divorce. I would turn on the TV hoping to lose my emotions in a funny plot. But invariably the show would be poking fun at…divorce! This isn’t funny at all, I would think. How can they be so cruel hearted? Same thing when there's been a death in your family, and this week's episode of your favorite comedy mirrors your tragedy. Ha Ha. How funny!

In the midst of a tragedy laughter becomes the indicator that grief is temporary and life will go on...

But what has that got to do with my little sister? Well, when she was just a few weeks old her little baby carrier slipped and she sustained a head injury. She was hospitalized for a time, and as always, my family turned to God in prayer. (If your family doesn’t do this, you might give it some serious thought.) Of course, God touched her and healed her and she grew up to be normal. OK... the jury is still out on that “normal” thing. Suffice it to say her healing was complete. And so now, when my little sister says something or does something silly, I ask her, “Were you dropped on your head as a child?” She has the wittiest answer for me… “Yes." Then she usually adds, "What’s your excuse?” This little inside joke is a special connection I have with her.

She and I like to laugh about it now. But at the time she was in the hospital, and for years afterwards, there was no humor to be found in the situation. Even now, some 35 years later, I broach the subject gingerly… except when she does something silly.

At a funeral we cry, but then somebody recalls a funny incident they shared with the departed, and we find ourselves laughing through our tears. What we’ve learned is that laughter is therapeutic, even healing! In the midst of a tragedy laughter becomes the indicator that grief is temporary and life will go on.

So, whatever you’re going through right now, don’t hold back the laughter. In fact, find the strength to let out one of those deep down, grief busting, belly laughs.

People will think your train has jumped its track.

Red Caboose by Shari Weinsheimer

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Early-Bird Conundrum

We send men and women into war with full body armor and automatic weapons. But we send them into parenthood with nothing but some cheesy book about how to change diapers (you mean a garden hose isn’t involved?). If you have kids you already know how difficult parenting is. And not the least of these challenges is the safety of the child. With God’s help you do your best to nurse them when they are sick, to know who they buddy up with, and to teach them to look both ways before skateboarding across the interstate. But one peril you’ve probably overlooked is what I call the Early-Bird Conundrum.

The chain of events needed for this rare, but possibly deadly happening, goes as follows:
1) Live within walking distance of the church you attend
2) Have an event on a Sunday morning that requires you to miss church
3) Inform your child that he must still attend Sunday school and church
4) Have this event fall on the day that Daylight Savings Time ends
5) Forget to set your clocks back (remember – Spring forward, Fall back)

What happens next is the kid gets up, showers, gets dressed in mismatched clothing, eats something he isn’t supposed to, and walks to church in time to be 5 minutes late for Sunday school. But when he gets to church there isn’t a soul in site. He looks at his watch, looks up at the sky, looks at his reflection in the glass door... and realizes he’s the sole survivor on Earth.

If he had gone to the store or a boy-scout meeting he might think everybody just stayed home that morning. But this is CHURCH. There’s only one thing that would keep the Sunday morning faithful from church….the RAPTURE! And he’s missed it!

Kids are resilient. They’re built to take a lot and keep on kicking. But the fear of missing the rapture – well that’s something the DNA just isn’t programmed for. The legs turn to Jell-O. Vital organs start to shut down. Death is surely imminent. But then, just when he thinks all is lost, a car turns into the driveway and parks near the door. “I see you forgot to set your clock back too…”

And color begins to return to the kid’s face.

You may not even believe in the rapture. Some people don’t. But kids believe what they’re taught by their parents to believe (at least until they get smarter than their parents – usually around 12). And when you’re sitting on the church steps staring into eternity it really doesn’t matter what you believe. It’s already too late!

Don’t ask me how I know this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I’m Not Really Sicilian

You’d think I was in the Mafia or something…the number of cousins I have. But these are really cousins. You know, family - not “family”. On my mom’s side I have four; on dad’s side, 10. Some I was closer to than others – closer in age, in proximity, in relationship.

If you’re not on Facebook you might check it out. It’s really cool. Oh, I know there are a lot of silly distractions built in. You can farm imaginary crops, shoot imaginary mobsters or find out what your imaginary leprechaun name is. But it’s not all imaginary. The people are real. And they are people you know, or used to know, and maybe would like to know better.

For instance, I might have gone the rest of my life without really knowing my cousin Gina. Oh, I knew her when we were kids, but when you’re a kid another kid has to be pretty close to your age to pal around, and she was a few years younger. I remember one Christmas Eve when the family got together at her house. Gina’s dad, Uncle Vito… uhummmmm, I mean Uncle Cliff… waited until she went off to the bedroom to play. Then he retrieved her present from its hiding place. I seem to remember a life size ballerina doll, or was that what my brother got that year? Anyway, we called Gina and then all ran outside and pointed at the sky. “You just missed him”, we chuckled. And she said, “Oh shoot man (or whatever 5 year old girls used to say)”.

Her memory of that night might be totally different – and they may both be wrong – who knows. The point is, we grew up, moved off and lost touch. And that’s the way it would have been if not for Facebook. Now I know where she lives, what kind of music she enjoys, and what her beautiful family looks like. And I know she truly loves God, just as I do.

I’ve “friended” more long lost cousins, and look forward to getting to know them better. Do it. Join up, and reconnect with those friends and relatives you used to be close to. Maybe you will be again.

Thank me later. Right now me and Cousin Rocco from Jersey have some collections to go make.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Knuckle Sandwich

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that said Jesus was a Liberal. As annoyed as I have become of late at all things political, I gave it only passing thought. But this small voice down inside me wasn’t so ready to let go of this one. So I girded the loins of my research talents, intent on proving that bumper sticker wrong. Wow – what manner of man goes to battle with a bumper sticker? Worse yet, what manner of man LOSES a battle with a bumper sticker?!

Here’s what I found:

The word “Liberal” comes from the Latin “Liberalis”. Three different Latin-English dictionary sites all confirmed one another; Liberalis translates as honorable, courteous, generous, gentlemanly, well bred. Hmmmm - I can’t make a case against ANY of these attributes in our Lord and Savior. Especially the well bred part. After all, he IS the Son of God. What better pedigree could there be?

We might see a healing revival break out on the floors of both houses of Congress...maybe even the White House...

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary seems to imply, by one definition at least, that the word “Liberal” refers to a man who has been made free…or a freeman. The Liber part evidently means free. Hmmmm – I’ve been set free by the blood of Jesus Christ. This is beginning to get personal!

The Holy Bible - Let’s see…in the book of James it says God gives wisdom liberally to all men. And we know Jesus healed all who were oppressed. Freely we have received, freely we should give. UNCLE! I give up! I surrender! Jesus was a liberal…and apparently so am I.

Oh, I realize the word “Liberal” means something totally different in the arena of 21st century politics. Else we might see a healing revival break out on the floors of both houses of Congress...maybe even the White House. After all, the liberals are in charge, aren’t they?

Game over. Bumper Sticker 1, Penitent Blogger 0

Photo is Public Domain

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Feed Me to the Crocs

I have a couple of grandkids; Devon and Kiley. My friend Paul tells me his mom had a saying, “Every hen thinks her eggs are the whitest.” Well, my grandkids are surely the whitest eggs in the henhouse.

Kiley is 4 and tonight she’s spending the night with Grandpa Kepler and Gramma Stephie. We picked her up from her house after church, and in the car on the way home Stephanie put in a CD of Christian music, of which she and Kiley are particularly fond. She was able to coax Kiley to sing along to their favorite song on the CD – Lead Me to the Cross. She knows all the words because they do this often.

Stephanie has a beautiful soprano voice, and sings on the praise team at church. Kiley has the beautiful voice of a 4 year old. Grandpa Kepler has the voice of an ornery grandpa. So, when the song came to an interlude Grandpa Kepler sang out “Feed me to the Crocs…..” (To the tune of lead me to the cross).

Kiley: “NO GRANDPA…it’s not feed me….it’s LEAD ME….Lead me to the cross.”
Grandpa: “You mean it doesn’t say Feed me to the Crocs?”
Kiley: “NO! It says Lead Me to the Cross.”

Glad we got that straight.

Heavenly Father: Thank you so much for this precious granddaughter, Kiley. Bless her and keep her in your care all the days of her life. And I know out there somewhere is a little boy that will one day win her affection. Protect him too, Lord I pray. Take his heart in your hands - mold him and make him into a mighty man of God. Amen

I’m just a proud grandpa tonight. Thanks for your indulgence.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Perfect Storm

There’s this cool trick you can do with a little box – about 3” x 5” or so. You cut a circle in the bottom, close to one end, and just the right size to put your finger through. Then you line the box with gauze and get some fake blood. Stick your finger through the bottom and squirt the fake blood on it. Then put the lid on the box. The result is what appears to be a bloody severed finger. Show it to your friends and watch them go from intrigued to terrified when you wiggle your finger!

Why is this entry called “The Perfect Storm”? The concept is that one storm is bad, two storms – well, that’s really bad, but add a third storm to the mix and you have the recipe for a disaster of biblical proportions.

She took one look at that nail-less, wrinkled up, bloody finger lying in that box and went into hysterics...

Now, consider these three elements:
Storm #1 - A harried mom trying to get three kids ready for church on Easter morning
Storm #2 - A kid who recently smashed his middle finger in the doorway and lost a fingernail
Storm #3 - A 3x5 box with a hole cut in the bottom.

One of the reasons we were running late on Easter morning is because I fell back to sleep in the bathtub. I woke up with my fingers and toes all wrinkly. That wrinkly thing really enhanced the effect of the severed finger in a box trick so I decided to share it with mom. In my defense, all I said was, “Look mom, my finger fell off in the bathtub.”

I never got to do the “wiggle my finger” thing. She took one look at that nail-less, wrinkled up, bloody finger lying in that box and went into hysterics. She threw her hands up to her head and started screaming, “Oh my God, Oh my God…!” Visions of mom in an insane asylum flashed through my head. Of course, a case could be made that she already lived in an insane asylum!

We finally got mom settled down, and made it to church, but thank goodness it was Sunday because I had some major repenting to do. Seriously though, after what I did to mom I sat in church that morning with such a pain in the pit of my stomach that I had to get up and leave the sanctuary. After a good cry I got to feeling better.

I don’t know how long it took mom to get over it. But I’m pretty sure that same week she went out and bought her first bottle of hair dye. I choose to believe that was just a coincidence.

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut/

Friday, January 8, 2010

Brothers and Boogers and Lamps

WARNING – This entry contains material that may not be suitable for some people. Reader discretion is advised. Consider yourself warned.

One of the coolest things I ever owned was this lamp I got when I was a kid. My mom worked at a store that sold light fixtures and such, and she brought home this cowboy lamp for me. It had a horseshoe for a base and the riser was made from a replica of an old west six shooter with pearl handles. Of course it was topped off with a shade and had a light bulb inside…for the light, ya know. Gunsmoke and Bonanza…Maverick and Paladin – those were the shows we were raised on, so you can imagine how much I loved this lamp. And she got my older brother one just like it.

Did you know I have an older brother? We shared a bedroom – would have painted a line right down the middle of it if mom and dad would have let us - but back to the lamp story. It was bedtime and the last step of our nightly ritual was to turn off our cowboy lamps. The room had been dark for about a minute when suddenly I heard this loud THUMP! What in the world was that? I jumped out of bed and turned on my lamp. There it was, stuck to the shade of MY cowboy lamp. Somebody had slung the grossest, the nastiest, the most disgusting booger you ever hurled your lunch over.

(You were warned!)

I was so mad I couldn’t see straight. I said “somebody” slung that nasty thing, but there was only one other person in the room. Frankly, if there would have been a dozen guys there I would have known he did it by the way he was laughing…like a hyena on crack! But how mad I was didn’t begin to compare with how mad I got – when I realized it wasn’t the lamp he was aiming at!
Older brothers are cool though. If you have an older brother you have somebody to call when your car breaks down, or when you need advice on whether to take that job offer. When dad passed I found it a little easier to accept because I still had an older brother.

If you don’t have an older brother you can borrow mine for awhile. Just handle him with respect and return him in the same condition you got him, normal wear and tear excepted.

Oh yeah, you might hide all your lamps first.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stranded City Slickers

Several years ago my best friend Paul and I went deer huntin’ in a part of the state with which we were not familiar. We simply drove deeper into the country until the terrain looked like it had deer in it. Then we turned down a county line road, then a dirt road, then into some farmer’s crop field. We got out and stomped through the woods, guns in hand. The testosterone was so thick you could slice it. I swear, if there were any deer around there they were laughing their white-tails off at us.

Lunch time comes early when you’re deer huntin’, and we headed back to the car. Paul turned on the radio so we could listen to some football and we opened our lunch bags. We ate, and chatted, and snoozed, and listened to the radio until we finally felt obliged to go back out for the afternoon hunt. Not sure how long we had been sitting there with the radio on I advised he start the car to add a little charge to the battery. Guess what happened – or more accurately, what didn’t happen.

We had no clue where we were in relation to a tow truck with jumper cables – didn’t want to go knocking on a door because we really didn’t have permission to be there in the first place. And besides that, there weren’t any doors around to go knock on. This was before the days of cell phones and they didn’t install pay phones out in the woods. We were stranded.

We had guns for food. If we’d had a hatchet or a saw we could have chopped down a few trees and built a cabin and just lived there the rest of our lives. We sure weren’t going anywhere soon. Then we decided to do what people do when they don’t have anywhere else to turn. We prayed and asked for God’s help.

Not even a few minutes had passed after we prayed and a big ole’ pickup truck came rumbling down the road. We flagged them down and asked for help. You’ll think I’m making this up when I tell you that pickup had industrial strength jumper cables wrapped around the front bumper. We obviously weren’t their first stranded city slickers. Hood goes up, engine starts, hood goes down.

Now for the really cool part of the story – as soon as our engine fired up they backed their truck out of the field and drove off in the same direction they came from! Those guys didn’t have any reason for coming down that road…except to help us. And now the clincher - as they drove off we saw it - on the back bumper of this 1 ton flatbed country pickup was a sticker that read Jesus Loves You!

This I know!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Rolex Watch – Part 2 (read part 1 first)

Forgive me. I know the title of this entry is deceptive. You are hoping a certain preacher read my last entry and returned to me not only my twist-o-flex band, but the gold Rolex watch with the Halliburton logo that was attached to it. That hasn’t happened - not yet at least!

But perchance somebody might actually be influenced by something I share in this venue, I want you to realize I DO believe in giving. And I believe in being blessed in and for that giving. Part 2 of the watch story isn’t really about the watch – it’s about a car.

It was the early 80s and I was serving on staff at a mid-sized church in south OKC. One of my co-workers, another minister on staff, was dealing with the challenge of being one car short. His wife would have to shuttle him to work before going to her job, and he would have to wait for her to get off work to pick him up. He was a precious man and not a complainer, and they made do. Did I mention that he lived on the other side of town from the church?

I on the other hand lived just a few blocks from the church – what would have at one time been considered walking distance (although not in this modern age). And I had two cars and a motorcycle. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this story is going. I sensed God moving on my heart to give my work car to him. The thought excited me! I shared this with the church secretary and she got excited too…and she got involved. She paid to have the seats recovered, which was about all the car needed to make it presentable. And present it we did, along with the title and the keys.

He was blessed by the car. She was blessed to see him get the car. I was blessed to be a part of it all. And, while every time I think of my Rolex watch it saddens me, every time I think of that little gray Chevy my heart floods with joy. People, this is how it’s supposed to work.

The reason I call this “The Rolex Watch – Part 2” is because the car story happened at the same time the watch story happened. And the car was worth about the same amount as the watch. I have always contrasted those two gifts given as the one that was “of God” and the one that wasn’t. And remember when I said that for years I was “watch-cursed”? Well, since that time I have always been “car-blessed”.

So what’s the lesson here? Listen to God, be a blessing, and be blessed...and oh yeah, don't be stupid! Amen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Rolex Watch

I was about eight or nine and didn't know the value of a Rolex watch. It was just my Pawpaw's watch and I admired it. "Do you have a will?" I asked him, and everyone in the room laughed.

By the time Pawpaw passed I was in my 20s. After his funeral we met back at the house, where all the grandkids got something of his to keep. My brother and some of my cousins got a gun. I don’t recall what the others got. But everyone knew what I was getting. They had all known for years. It was a Rolex watch - Pawpaw's retirement watch for 35 years of service at Halliburton. It had that cool Halliburton logo on the face of it, and it was made of GOLD! Not being a man of means, that watch was my most valuable possession. I took good care of it and wore it with pride. A gold Rolex held on with a three dollar twist-o-flex band.

I'd love to show you my gold Rolex watch with the Halliburton logo but it was stolen...sort of. See, a preacher came to town and I went out to hear him preach. But that night he yielded his pulpit to another preacher that had blown in with "a word from God" for this particular crowd on this particular night. Seems the first preacher (the one I went to hear) was building a big nice headquarters for his evangelistic association, and it was expensive. So the second preacher preached a message about giving out of your lack and seeing God bless you abundantly. The sermon was specifically titled "Sewing in Famine", and it was an emotional and moving message. Then they passed the buckets. I didn't have any money to give and I so wanted to sew in my famine. I pulled off my gold Rolex watch with the Halliburton logo on it... and dropped it in the bucket.

But I said the watch was stolen, didn't I. And in a sense it was. See, I found out later that this preacher I went out to hear had yielded his pulpit to that second preacher in town after town to preach that same message to that particular crowd on that particular night, of course followed by the ceremonial passing of the buckets. Did they steal my watch or did they present me with the opportunity to sew a seed that would produce abundance? There’s an old saying - "The proof of the pudding is in the eating". And that pudding didn't eat! In fact, instead of blessings I seemed to be "watch-cursed". It was years before I could even get a watch to run for more than a few months. And now, over 30 years later that sense of loss still hasn't passed.

So what is the lesson to be learned? Don't be stupid.

And if you’re reading this and you happen to be a preacher with a big nice headquarters and a gold Rolex watch with the Halliburton logo laying in a box somewhere, can I have my twist-o-flex band back?

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Spiritual Journey and the Resignation of a Pastor

I was born on a Monday and though I don't personally recall, I'm quite sure I was in an Assembly of God church the following Sunday. Being raised not only in church, but in that specific denomination, I grew up dividing Christians into two categories - those who were members of an Assembly of God church and "the confused". I remember being at the ball park when I was about 10 years old, and seeing a boy that was selling candy for his church. I asked him what church he went to and he replied, "The best church there is." "You go to an Assembly of God church too?!" I asked. He boldly replied, "No, Church of Christ" (or some other denomination that I can't now recall). This is a true story and I am sincere in confessing it was that very moment that I realized everybody thinks their church is right - or at least the most right.

...this man was the bridge that I didn’t think existed - between what I was and what I am.

Fast forward to age 20. My dad went to a camp meeting in Tulsa and brought back cassette tapes of guys I'd never heard of - Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Jerry Savelle, Novell Hayes, Charles Capps... I heard things I'd never heard before - truths from God's Word that nobody had ever taught me, and I certainly had not discovered on my own. What dad stumbled into is what has come to be known as "The Faith Message" (also known as "The Name It and Claim It Message", "The Blab It and Grab It Message", and my all time favorite, "The Call It and Haul It Message").

A sidebar of explanation: These monikers all derive from the teaching that by applying faith in God to the words you speak, you have the spiritual power to cause things to come to pass. The secular equivalent of this might be "The Power of Positive Thinking". And while there is truth in this message of faith, it was abused ad nauseam by guys (like me) that wanted new cars and gold nugget rings. (Gold nugget rings? It was the 80's. You had to be there.)

But alas, this Faith Message was largely rejected by my Assembly of God denomination. The faith teachers were not invited into the A/G churches, and Jimmy Swaggart, arguably their foremost mouthpiece at the time, went so far as to brand it as Gnosticism in his monthly magazine, “The Evangelist”. But for me it was too late. I had already had a taste, and would not, in fact could not turn back. I left my spiritual roots behind and enrolled in Rhema Bible Training Center (Kenneth Hagin’s school in Tulsa - and ground zero for this bunch of radicals).

Lest you read sarcasm into my description of the faith message, please understand that in this “movement” I found my home, and now over 30 years later I still reside comfortably therein. I had not crossed the threshold of an A/G church in those 30+ years, and never expected to again. So you can only imagine the shock and irony I felt when God led Stephanie and me to visit the A/G church behind our house. I fully expected to step into a time warp; back to 1976, when I cast off the chains of that denomination and moved into the light.

Don’t get me wrong about the Assemblies of God. They are good people. The best! And I agree with their 16 fundamental doctrines…at least 15 ½ of them. They just didn’t seem to care to dig deeper into God’s Word. And their out and out rejection of the Faith Message was a line in the sand that I had stepped across. But that was then. This is now. At this church, Lakeside Assembly of God, I found a pastor that was spiritually qualified to knock that chip off my shoulder. But instead, he just smiled and said, “There’s nothing wrong with that Faith Message. That’s good stuff.” I wanted to make a mad dash for the door, so-as to not be injured when the roof caved in. But the roof held firm. And this pastor held firm…firm and true to the Word of God. Listening to Pastor Darren Pilcher preach I've reveled in services that felt like a faith message camp meeting. I’d gone back in time 20 years rather than 30; back to the spiritual times I cherished most. Truly I have found a new home.

But now Pastor Darren has announced that he is resigning the church – taking a position with the denomination. He says it’s God’s will and I have no basis to doubt or disagree. But this man was the bridge that I didn’t think existed - between what I was and what I am. And so this becomes very personal to me. Some board or committee or other entity is going to read resumes and interview candidates, and present me with my new pastor. Oh, I’m sure I’ll get to vote. And I do believe God answers prayer and has been grooming the right man for this job. I’m not worried, but I’m also not na├»ve enough to think God’s will just automatically falls in our laps. I’ve seen too many shipwrecks.

Pastor Darren and Michelle, I wish you Godspeed in your endeavors. And Lakeside/Highpointe members – let’s be sure we get this one right! Our future depends on it.