Monthly Archives: February 2006

Whippersnapper Envy

Tonight at the table tennis club, I played two teenage guys who haven’t been coming to the club very long. I beat Ben the first time we played, back in October. But he improved very rapidly, and the next time we played, he beat me in a close match. Tonight, he beat me three straight. He zoomed right by me. That’s what the club does. You play guys much better than yourself, learn from them, and improve. Most guys, when they begin coming, experience a burst of quick improvement. That’s what happened with Ben.

Another kid has just started coming. He’s very scrappy, hard to play against. I beat him Saturday, 3 out of 5. But tonight, he beat me 3 out of 5. I’ve been playing much longer. But he’s full of energy, never tires, and has the confidence of youth. He doesn’t realize he’s not supposed to be able to beat me.

This really stinks. Especially since I remember, once upon a time, being just like them.

I went out for tennis in high school, my junior year. I started out as the number 9 player on the junior varsity team, and only the top 8 play in a match. In the first match of the season, I got to play someone from the other school after he had already played his real match. He was the other team’s number 3 player, and he beat me 8-0 (we played a single 8-game set back then). But I improved quickly. I constantly watched the varsity guys to see how they stroked the ball, recognizing that “form” is everything. And it paid off. I quickly climbed up the team rankings, knocking off player after player. And a couple weeks later, when we played that same team again, I was the number one player on our JV team. And in a nail-biter, I beat the other team’s number 1 player. And I just realized I’ve started four sentences in this paragraph with “and.”

The next week, I was moved up to varsity, where we won the conference championship and placed third in Central California. The next year, another championship year, I was the team captain.

Okay, I’m bragging. Reliving glory days. Mid-life nostalgia. But it’s to make a point. I know what it feels like to be able to improve very rapidly. But after you do that, you hit a wall, where improvement becomes very difficult. That happened to me in tennis. And that’s where I am right now in ping pong. I watch these young whippersnappers (at age 49, I qualify to refer to other people as whippersnappers), how they take hold of the sport and zoom right by me in ability. I can stroke the ball better. I have loads more experience. But they beat me. And it’s grossly unfair. God knows it, but he won’t do anything about it.

Churches sometimes grow rapidly, then hit a wall where continued growth is very difficult. New Christians grow spiritually, then experience a period where living the Christian life is suddenly difficult…and it stays that way for the rest of their lives. “Normal” life is hard. And hard is good. It means you put effort into it. If I’m gonna beat these young whippersnappers–and I know I can–it’ll take more than will power. Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to pray about it, asking God to grant me victory over these immature novices who need humbling. But if I keep losing, I may resort to prayer. Maybe even throw in some fasting. I really really want to beat these guys.

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In the Demonic Grip of American Idol

Okay, I admit it: I’m hooked on American Idol. I started watching in January when they were doing the tryouts. I just wanted to enjoy the “gag” acts, and the performances by people who thought they were good but are actually terrible, the type of act which is what brought fame to William Hung a couple years ago. I’d never watched American Idol before.

In general, I detest reality shows. I watched the first two seasons of Survivor, and then the All-Star Survivor, but that’s the extent of it. I considered myself far too sophisticated to watch American Idol (as if watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t, by itself, squelch all claims to sophistication).

But it didn’t take much to get me hooked on American Idol. I read somewhere that the show had been a guilty pleasure, but now, in its fifth season, it has gone more mainstream and people aren’t afraid to admit that they are fans. Well, I’m not exactly bragging that I’m a fan. I’m just humbly admitting that, by letting myself get addicted to AI, I have some deep flaw in my character which merits closer scrutiny.

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Train Track Anxiety

Pastor Tim talked from Matthew 6 today about worry and anxiety. Let me tell you what gives me an anxiety rush, because it happened on the way to church this morning. Again.

We cross two railroad tracks enroute to church. One of them is hidden by trees that come up to the road, so you can’t see down the tracks until you’re pretty much on the tracks. What always freaks me out is getting onto the tracks and then seeing a train parked right there–not moving, just parked. There was one this morning. It’s big light in front was ablaze. This never fails to freak me out. Just the idea that a big train is right there on the tracks, pointed at my car.

Imagine an engineer sitting in the parked train. He’s feeling a bit ornery. As my car drives onto the tracks, he hits the train horn. I’d keel over right there in the car, and my next sight would be the pearly gates.

Trains are parked on these tracks very often. You’d think I’d get accustomed to it. But now, even if I’m expecting a train to be there, it still freaks me out. I’m such a wimp.

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How Many Michael Jordans Are There?

I was listening to ESPN radio today on the way to play ping pong. They were talking about the upcoming NFL combine, where draft prospects work out for NFL scouts and try to impress them. The show host asked a guest something like, “So how do you feel about the fact that the Reggie Bushes and the Matt Leinarts and the Vince Youngs will be there, but they aren’t going to work out?”

My question is much more significant: are there more than one of each guy? Why the pluralizing? Can the first two teams each get a Reggie Bush?

When Ron Artest was being shopped around, and some people were calling him one of the best players in the NBA, I heard a different ESPN announcer say, “Artest is good, but he’s not in the same category as the Kobes and the Tim Duncans and the Shaqs and the Lebrons and the Dwayne Wades and the Kevin Garnetts.” What? There’s more than one Kobe? More than one Shaq? Do the alternate Kobes and Shaqs also hate each other?

This is something you rarely see in writing, but you hear spoken all the time. Doesn’t make sense to me why people do it. Imagine saying, “May can be a hot month, but it doesn’t compare to the Junes and Julys and Augusts.” If there’s only one of something, why talk as if there are many of them?

  • “There are many great heroes in the Bible. I’m talking about the Gideons and the Davids and the Abrahams and the Solomons and the Apostles Pauls.”
  • “The King James is a popular Bible, but I’d recommend a contemporary version, something like the NIVs or the Living Bibles.”
  • “After Jesus was crucified, the disciples–the Peters, the Johns, the Bartholomews, the Jameses–hid in fear.”
  • “I enjoy being around the other members of the worship team–the Terrys, Tims, Chrises, Larrys, Jodys, Marshas, Pams, and Daves.”
  • “My two all-time favorite situations comedies are the Seinfields and the Mashes.”

Okay, so this is a silly thing people do. I’ve made my point. I’m trying to figure out why this affects God’s eternal purposes on earth–you know, the world evangelizations and the social justices and the discipleships and the eternal lifes–but I’m coming up empty.

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Those Who Do, Do

Next fall, ESPN takes over control of Monday Night Football, which ABC has ruled since it began. Tony Kornhiser was recently named as one of the new crew of announcers, and people are criticizing him because he never played football. Howard Cossell didn’t, either, but he was unique. Dennis Miller didn’t play football, and he bombed. But a variety of football players have bombed, too, over the years.

Over the years, I’ve often heard ministers discount other ministers by saying, “He never grew a church,” or, “He wasn’t a successful pastor.” Therefore, I have nothing to learn from that person. My Dad never led a church of more than 120. Therefore, to pastors of larger churches, he has nothing to contribute to them. If we did a seminar on pastoral relationships, and had pastors of churches smaller than 200 lead it, the pastors of churches larger than 300 or 400 wouldn’t attend. They would assume they have nothing to learn. Which is stinkin’ hogwash, because small-church pastors are often great at relational issues. But hey–small equals inferior. Small equals “not as successful as me.”

If they haven’t done it, then they can’t relate.

Which brings us to our President and VP. They never served in combat, and yet they’re leading a war in two countries, exercising authority over real soldiers and real generals. Lincoln never served in combat. Neither did Franklin Roosevelt. But sometimes, you just get lucky when it comes to who’s in charge, I guess.

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What Motivates People?

A couple weeks ago, I attended a luncheon at Taylor University-Fort Wayne designed for local ministers and laypersons. I attended with my pastor, Tim Hallman, and my fellow elder, Russ Baker.

The speaker was Dr. Eugene Habecker, president of Taylor University. I knew him well when he was president of Huntington College. We served on a variety of committees together, and I interviewed him and his wife several times. Great folks. Nice to have them back in the area.

He spoke on leadership, and said many memorable things. I’ll mention one. He said, “Everybody is motivated to do something.” A role of leadership, he said, is to “unlock” whatever that will motivate a person.

Even the most tried-and-true pew-sitter in your congregation can be motivated. You just need to find what it is that really turns their crank. This is part of the emphasis behind spiritual gifts tests. You learn what someone is spiritually gifted to do, and then put them in a role which makes use of that gift. It then become fulfilling to them. When I was fresh out of college, I spent a year teaching Wednesday night kids in grades 4-6. I did okay, and I guess I was motivated to try my best. But that’s not where I belonged.

There are people at Anchor, as in any church, who are minimally involved. What does it take to turn them into active laypersons? Is it just a matter of matching their gifts with a particular role? It’s probably not that simple. But whatever the answer is, we (like all churches) need to figure it out. Because it doesn’t help us to have capable people sitting on the sidelines, watching a few people kill themselves with over-involvement.

What motivates me? Hmmmm. Nobody needs to twist my arm to play in the worship team. I’ve done many things in churches, and many of those things have been enjoyable and rewarding. I’m not sure a spiritual gifts test has ever really determined, to my satisfaction, what I should be doing in a church. I just want my church to move forward, and I WILL work my butt off to help make it happen. I guess I do enjoy jumping into gaps, plugging holes, spotting things that need to be done and helping get them accomplished. That sounds a bit like a savior complex. Is that a bad thing?

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One (1) More Thing That Bugs Me

I’ve received a number of comments from people who read my February 5 post, a drooling rant about people who insist on typing two spaces between sentences. I thought I’d add another pet peeve from the editing world.

Have you noticed how often people spell out a number, and then put it in parentheses? What’s this all about? Someone writes, “I went to the store and bought ten (10) cans of cat food for my two (2) cats.” I suppose there are, indeed, people in the world who never learned to spell their numbers, and (&) therefore need to see the aramaic numeral in parentheses (()). I never learned to correctly type numbers in 7th (seventh) grade, because the semester ended before we got to the number (#) row, so maybe this happened to people in second (2nd) grade reading class. But still, don’t you think this is a bit silly? Maybe people do it merely because they see other people do it, and they assume that it is therefore correct or necessary. In 27 (twenty-seven) years as a professional editor, I have NEVER allowed this to go into print. I always edit it out.

If this is necessary, then perhaps we should extend it to other things:

  • “I went to bed at 10:00 (ten o’clock).”
  • “The baby weighed 7 lbs, 6oz” would become, “The baby weighed 7 (seven) lbs (pounds), 6 (six) oz (ounces).” That way, there would be no mistaking it.
  • “I live in Ft. (Fort) Wayne, Ind. (Indiana).”
  • “The score was 42-13 (twenty-four to thirteen).”
  • “I have 20/20 (twenty-slash-twenty) vision.”
  • “I paid $45 (forty-five dollars), plus (+) change, to fill my truck with gas! (exclamation point)”
  • “This is my second (2nd) editorial rant.”

It’s too bad that readers are so doggone, unredeemably stupid that we must put things in parentheses to avoid confusion, but I guess that’s the way it is. At (@) least, judging by the number (#) of people who still insist on duplicating a written-out number in parentheses. But alas, I may be showing some elitism here. Not everyone has the benefit of a degree from Huntington University (HU), as do I. In writing, we must be conscious of the unlearned huddled masses yearning to read numbers accurately.

So that’s today’s (February 17th’s (seventeenth’s)) rant. Don’t for a second (2nd) think this is the last one (1). I’ve got more.

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A Good Example from Arrogant America

We Americans can be pretty arrogant and condescending toward the rest of the world. Our current president has certainly exemplified that attitude. But I’m not here to dump on George W. In the church, in our missions efforts, we’ve certainly been that way, too. Our attitude toward churches in other countries has been, “We have things figured out. We’ve written tons of books on church growth and evangelism and everything else regarding what the church should be. Let us come to your country and tell you how to do it. We’ll train your pastors right. We’ll bring programs that will work in your country, because they’ve been proven effective in God’s favorite country, the US of A.” And so, when Americans go overseas, it’s usually to be teachers and trainers for ignorant Third Worlders.

Having visited United Brethren churches in several other countries, I’m well aware that they, too, have people who know what they’re doing. Good, godly people. People who could teach us a lot, especially about sacrifice and commitment, even though they haven’t written books or earned advanced degrees or keynoted major conferences.

This is why I’m thrilled with the example of my denomination’s church in Fowlerville, Mich. This is one of our premier churches. They do have a lot to teach. But when a group from Fowlerville went to Honduras recently, they took the role of servants. The Hondurans were holding a leadership conference. Did these Fowlerville people hold seminars and Q&A session at the conference to dispense their profound experience and knowledge? No. The Hondurans planned and led the conference, and they were fully capable to doing that. The Fowlerville people, instead, assumed the role of servants, taking care of support and background roles. They cared for the children, helped with clean-up, did food preparation, etc. This freed the Hondurans to focus on the goals of the retreat.

I tell you, this type of humble spirit, coming from Americans, warms my heart. Fowlerville “gets it.”

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Why “Alias” Betrayed Us

Pam and I have watched the TV show “Alias” since it began. Now the show is wrapping up its final season. But with only a few more bites to eat, I can’t do it. I’m full of Sidney Bristow. Because I think this show has played very unfairly with us viewers.

Time and again, people get killed off–CLEARLY killed off–and yet they return, alive and well. Now, I read that a number of people who have been dispatched–Vaughn, Francie, Anna Espinosa, Irena, and others–will be making a comeback. Somehow, they’re actually alive. We saw Vaughn riddled with bullets…but he’s ALIVE.

Sorry, but this isn’t fair. The latter years of X-Files were the same way. The writers jerked us around while they tried to figure out where in the world they wanted to take the show. My fear is that “Lost” will go a similar route. So I’m done with Alias. Only a few more shows to go and I’ll have seen the series. But no, I’m quitting here.

I trust you have been spiritually edified by this post.

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Mustang Sally Comes to Church

The guitarists on the worship team, Tim and Terry, are 70’s rock-and-rollers, like me, but they also have a real interest in the blues. Sometimes at practice, we’ll just jam with a blues progression. It’s fun, and you can do all kinds of things instrumentally.

A couple weeks ago, in a moment of whimsy, I downloaded a bunch of versions of “Mustang Sally” from the iTunes store. Probably ten versions. Then I burned them all onto CDs and gave them to Tim and Terry. Just for their listening pleasure. The next week at practice, Terry was playing some cords, and I immediately recognized “Mustang Sally.” Before long, we were all jamming to that particular cord progression.

Last Thursday at practice, we were batting around various ideas. I suggested that one of them rewrite the words of “Mustang Sally” to give the song a Christian slant. Both Tim and Terry are very talented at doing stuff like that (in addition to writing original music). Then yesterday, as we prepared to practice in preparation for the first church service, Terry told me he had written new words to “Mustang Sally.” In the place where you sing the title words, he now had “I found Jesus.” He worked in a verse telling about his salvation experience.

Then Tim arrived. He said he had written a Christian version of “Mustang Sally,” too. He, too, used the words “I found Jesus.”

We’re gonna have to do BOTH versions one of these days, maybe as a prelude or offertory. We’re gonna jam the blues, and it’s gonna be a blast. And people will love it. I’m delighted that we can get away with stuff like this at Anchor. At most churches, Mustang Sally would be barred at the door.

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