Thursday, December 23, 2010

What the Heck Does this Mean?

I have some very strange dreams; some of them recurring. You know the ones--you go to work naked or you can fly by holding your arms out and running real fast. (Surely, I'm not the only person that has had those dreams)

Last night was definitely one of the more bizarre dreams I've had: I'm driving an older Chevrolet pickup truck, probably a 1964 or 65 model--blue with tan interior (yes, I dream in color; doesn't everybody?). The interesting thing is I am driving from the passenger side of the truck, my left foot on the gas pedal, steering with my left hand. The windows of the truck are down as I drive at a fairly high rate of speed down a street of the town where I grew up. Ahead of me, on the right side of the street, is a young, middle-eastern man riding a Schwinn Cruiser (my dreams are quite detailed sometimes). As I pull abreast of him, he turns to me and asks: "There are quite a large number of cases of mono[nucleosis] in the United States, aren't there?"

My wife's alarm went off and I woke up.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Change?

"Democratic lawmakers say Obama ignored them at crucial negotiating moments, misled them about his intentions and made needless concessions..." Sounds like business as usual in DC.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oh, I Love a Parade

This weekend was the "Tulsa Christmas Parade". Maybe you heard about it on the national news over the past couple of weeks. Seems that when the parade first began, it was known as The Tulsa Christmas Parade, and it operated essentially under that name for many years. At some point, PSO (an electrical utility company) became the main sponsor of the parade and the name was changed to PSO Christmas Parade of Lights. In 2009, for whatever reason, the name underwent another change becoming the PSO Parade of Lights. This year--2010--McNellies, a local restaurant/pub and new sponsor of the parade--changed the name to McNellies Holiday Parade of Lights. You following all of this so far?

Traditionally, the parade has always featured images associated with Christmas, i.e. nativity scenes, signs proclaiming "MERRY CHRISTMAS", Santa Claus, people dressed up like elves, traditional Christmas carols played by marching bands, etc. All the stuff you'd expect to see in a Christmas parade...and low and behold, that's apparently what people saw at this year's parade. The thing that caused this parade to gain so much attention was the stance taken by Oklahoma's Senator Jim Inhofe who proclaimed he would not participate in this year's parade since they had taken Christ out of Christmas by not including the word "Christmas" in the parade's name.

There was a LOT of bantering back and forth on local talk radio stations, as well as multiple interviews with Senator Inhofe on several national news outlets. There was even talk of the Tulsa City Council not issuing a permit for the parade unless the word "Christmas", but in the end, the parade sponsors were granted their permit, Inhofe stood his ground and didn't show up...AND there were floats with Merry Christmas banners, nativity scenes, and Santa Claus.

Now, I must admit that I didn't attend the parade, but it wasn't because of the name change. It just didn't fit into our Christmas, er uh, holiday plans. It really didn't bother me that they changed the name, but in a way, it did seem silly to change it. Even without "Christmas" in the title, it seems the over-riding theme of the parade was...CHRISTMAS. So why avoid using the word?

Several callers to a local talk radio station said the name change was necessary to show the diversity of the holiday. Really? What diversity? Again, from what I heard, there wasn't an over-whelming number of Menorahs in the parade; the American Atheists didn't have a float in the parade; the Muslims didn't have a float, either. The local Satanist coven didn't bother to participate. It was mostly community groups/organizations and churches from what I could tell. There was a group of people, I'm assuming from a local SPCA or similar shelter that dressed up dogs in "Christmasy" outfits, but other than that...the theme of the parade was CHRISTMAS!

Christmas falls into two camps from where I sit: it's either about the birth of Jesus, or the fun story of a fat guy that rides around in a sleigh delivering presents to kids on Christmas eve...or maybe a little bit of both. I can live without the fat guy in the red suit although I'm not against him being part of the whole deal. For me, Christmas...the holidays, aka "HOLY DAYS" are a time to focus on the gift of God's Son, Jesus Christ, coming to earth as a baby. I guess what I'm asking is: if we take word "Christmas" out of holiday name, do we really feel that strongly about the fat guy to plan an entire celebration around him?

Monday, November 08, 2010


First, let me say from the start that I am all for missions, i.e. giving of money and/or labor for the purpose of spreading the Gospel message, as well as serving/ministering to people in need. Missions can be in the form of sending a check to a group or organization to actually joining in doing some of the work yourself. Missions can be local or all the way across the ocean. Missions can be in the form of talking to someone about their relationship with Jesus Christ or simply offering them a warm blanket, a hot meal, or helping clean up after a disaster. There's no "set in stone" definition. For the sake of this discussion, I am referring more to missions done in association with one's faith or religion. That doesn't mean that I think only Christians can be kind or that we've cornered the market on helping other.

Second, I've got nothing against what is typically referred to as foreign missions. My wife and I have supported a foreign mission for over 15 years with a monthly check. We'll never go there; we'll never see first-hand the impact of our contribution, but we receive letters from the missionaries so we know that our money is being used wisely and goes to help people that might otherwise not have some of the things we take for granted here in the United States.

All of that said, I think we've (and I have to include myself in this one) missed the boat on missions in the church today. Here's why I say that. In many--maybe most--of the churches I've been part of or visited, it seems the emphasis is more on foreign missions, which are not bad, but I can't help but think: "Aren't there some people around here that could use some help?...and why are we going all the way to Mexico or Guatemala when there are people right down the street that need our help?"

Ponca_05This past week, I became aware of a situation where a single mother was in need of some major repairs to her home, so much so the insurance company told her they could no longer insure her home in it's current condition. Large areas of siding were rotten and falling off. The fireplace and chimney had pulled away from the house and consequently was pulling the exterior wall down. A portion of the roof needed to be replaced and the whole house needed a good coat of paint, just to name a few things. The sad thing, this woman is a member of a local congregation I used to attend...and apparently no one knew about any of this situation!

What really made this scenario even more frustrating was this same church's pastor proclaimed on more than one occasion his goal for the congregation was to see at least 50 PERCENT of the budget going toward missions! Now, I don't recall if that comment was ever qualified, i.e. how much would be for local versus foreign missions, etc. but here's the deal---if there's ONE, JUST ONE widow in a congregation that is living in a home in need of repair, a lawn that needs to be mowed, a dishwasher that needs to be repaired...and that congregation is sending the Youth Group to Mexico for a week BEFORE the widows or needy in the congregation are taken care of THAT'S JUST WRONG!

So...a group of us got together and spent the weekend working to get the woman's house repaired. At any given time, there were at least 10 to 12 people hauling debris, replacing siding, scraping and priming, re-building a wall, etc. One thing that made it interesting, I noticed all of the workers no longer attended the previously mentioned church (another story) and all of us don't attend the same church now...we were just a group of people that cared about a fellow sister in Christ, saw a need and took care of it. No committee. No committee meetings. Just a group of people "doing church." That's how it should be.

And you know what? It was FUN! We worked, we laughed and we found muscles and joints we didn't know we had. Now, where did I put that bottle of Ibuprofen?

"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress..." (James 1:27)   "...Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Talimena Drive

I've lived in Oklahoma all my life. Born here, raised here, and will most likely die here. The winters and summers are comparably mild; Spring and Fall are the best times. For those who have never been here, many people think of a place dominated by cowboys and Indians. And although we do have real cowboys (yes, they ride horses and raise cattle) and Indians (no, they don't live in teepees and run around half naked) here, the thing that really makes Oklahoma a great place is its natural beauty.

Oklahoma features all types of terrain from flat plains to rolling hills and an "almost mountain" to the densely wooded Ouachita National Forest in the southeastern portion of the state. Winding through the Ouachita Forest (pronounced wash-e-taw) is a 54-mile long stretch of highway known as Talimena Drive which connects Talihina, Oklahoma and Mena, Arkansas--hence the name. From approximately the last week in October through the first couple of weeks of November, the Talimena Drive is a favorite spot to view all of the brilliant fall colors.

Talimena DriveEven though my wife and I are both life-long Okies, neither of us had been on the Talimena Drive. We decided this past weekend we would fix that situation. Friday afternoon, we drove to Poteau, OK--about an hour north of Mena, AR. Because we decided to make our road trip at the last minute, we weren't able to find accommodations in Mena. (Note: We determined early on that we wanted to make the scenic drive from east to west. Although it was a little longer drive to the starting point in Mena, it would make for a shorter drive home.) We stayed at the Best Western Traders Inn and opted for the King Suite --about $15 more than their standard Queen room-- which consisted of a King-size bed and a separate sitting area with a couch and occasional chair. Both rooms had a nice sized flat panel TV.

We checked into our room and then headed to downtown Poteau to check out a local steakhouse: Warehouse Willies. I had Willies specialty, the ribeye, while Dana enjoyed their bacon wrapped filet. Both steaks were very tender and cooked to perfection. Dinners came with baked potato and salad. The decor is probably best described as eclectic--everything from old signs, tools, screen doors and vinyl records covered the walls. I'd recommend Willies if you're in the area.

The next morning we made the short drive to Mena and ate breakfast at Skyline Cafe. GREAT biscuits and gravy! Dana got her usually scrambled egg(s) and bacon and I opted for eggs over-easy and grits--my favorite. Service was a little slow, but it was a Saturday morning and the place was PACKED. The wait staff did a great job of taking orders, keeping coffee cups filled and getting the food out to us. Nothing fancy about the Skyline's decor, just good old southern style cooking.

DSC_0071There are 26 different stops/vistas along the Talimena Drive. Several publications stated you could make the route in about an hour and a half if you didn't stop. Average time ranged from four to six hours if you stopped at each location. We took about four hours--we didn't stop at all of the vistas and our trip was slowed a bit by the heavy fog that rolled in that morning. Visibility was so bad at one point, we could only see about 10 yards in front of my truck! We drove through the Queen Wilhelmina State Park and could barely see the lodge. On a sunny day, I'm sure it's very nice.

DSC_0117By the time we reached the Kerr Nature Center, a little over half way long the drive, the fog had lifted and we were able get out and enjoy a walk along one of the trails there. As we approached the end of the drive it began to sprinkle rain, and by the time we pulled into the East Visitor's Center, it was a downpour! Perfect timing...and a great weekend getaway!

More photos on Flickr
Talimena Drive website

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Wow! It's been a while since I've posted anything here. It's been a busy summer and I've had lots of things on my mind, but never took the time to write them down.

We left the church we've been attending for the past five years. I really thought this one was going to work for us, but the pastor went "dog day afternoon" on us, i.e. starting bullying from the pulpit, became argumentative with anyone that didn't see things his way, etc. There were some situations/conversations where he wasn't completely truthful and frankly, I don't need that in a pastor or a church.

We have visited several different congregations in the area and have been attending one in particular for the past few weeks. I worked real hard not to sway the decision-making process this time, since I was the one that picked the last church that didn't work out. Dana seems to like this one and has made comments to that effect the past couple of weeks. We know quite a few people there already, so the transition hasn't been too bad. I don't anticipate us placing our membership anywhere right now; maybe not for a long time. I've always said, church would be a great place if you didn't have to deal with people...myself included.

We went to Alaska this summer; our second time. The first trip was for our 20th wedding anniversary. This time we took the boys and celebrated our 30th anniversary. We took a flight-seeing tour of the Misty Fjords in Ketchikan and went whale watching in Juneau. Absolutely gorgeous! Here's a few of the pictures I took (culled from over 1000!)

Another Project
When we bought the home we're currently living in, there was an 8 ft x 12 ft portable storage building in the back yard. Over the years, it started to deteriorate, so this summer I decided I would tear it down and replace it. After removing the roof and walls, I discovered that the floor was actually in pretty good shape, so rather than trashing the whole thing, I simply added on. The building is now 12 ft x 20 ft! I've completed all of the construction, just need to paint it. You can take a look at the finished product here

I'm attending my high school's homecoming this weekend. We're throwing an "all 70s classes" reunion, i.e. all classmates from classes 1970 through 1979. I graduated in 1976. Should be fun. There are some people attending I haven't seen in over 30 years. I'm sure I look the same!

Hopefully, I won't be so long between posts this time.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm Beginning to Understand

I was raised going to church. We went every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. If the church doors were open, we were there. Lately, however, I'm beginning to understand why people quit going to church.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Worship Wars

I'm a hymn guy. You know, hymns like "Blessed Assurance," "Amazing Grace," and "It is Well." I also like some of the new hymns (new to me) like "In Christ Alone" and "Before the Throne of God Above." For the record, that's not to say I only listen to hymns. I enjoy a wide array of genres from hymns to classic rock to new age/ambient to bluegrass.

Now, in recent years we've seen this battle brewing over worship in the church, more specifically, the STYLE of worship, i.e. traditional (typically hymns) versus contemporary. Contemporary covers alot of things for alot of people. To me, the contemporary label includes "praise/worship choruses" to some music that sounds more at home in a concert arena. It seems that just about every church has adopted some level of the contemporary style of worship, for numerous reasons. Some feel they can/do reach younger believers/seekers with this particular style. Some feel the hymns are out-dated and don't speak to our present culture. And I guess one could make an argument for either of those reasons, but I'm coming at this whole thing from a little different angle.

Just as there are good and bad examples of other genres, there are good and bad examples of contemporary worship/music. The thing of it is, a particular style doesn't necessarily mean "better." What I mean is this: your church may WANT to have a contemporary worship service. Your leadership may believe it's the right and/or best decision for your church but...if your church doesn't have a group of people that can pull it off and pull it off WELL, it's going to be worse than just continuing what you're already doing.

I've seen churches that have had traditionally styled worship for years all of a sudden make the quantum leap into the contemporary style and it has worked. Others have tried it and it's been a train wreck. What's the difference? The "success stories" (churches that are doing contemporary worship well) took the time to evaluate their talent/skill level(s). Just because Mrs. Shoomacker has played the piano all these years doesn't mean she is the best choice for the transition from traditional to contemporary worship. She may play a mean "Great is Thy Faithfulness," but let's face it, she ain't gonna cut it when it comes to the newer stuff.

Those same churches also refused to give in to a mindset that says: "as long as we call it worship and our desire is to worship/please God, then our good enough is good enough." Worship is a celebration of God--who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, etc. He is worthy of our VERY BEST. To me, that means, striving to play and sing to Him in a way that is the absolute best. What does that entail? Just a few things of the top of my head: First, if instrumentalists and vocalists are not of a high enough caliber, don't use them! A single piano, played well--excellently--accompanying a skilled/gifted vocalist will set the tone and move people to worship much better than a crowd on stage, cranking out the latest contemporary tune that really wasn't written to be sung as a congregation in the first place. Second, it involves preparation. You can't do a 15-minute run through right before the worship service and expect things to go well. Segues, key changes, repeated choruses or phrases, tempo changes, where the instruments play, and where they don't are all some of the things that should be worked out BEFORE the service. Third, it involves dedication. The worship team not only needs to be capable of being excellent, they need to be need devoted to being excellent. That means showing up for scheduled rehearsals--and there SHOULD be scheduled rehearsals. And fourth, realizing that more speakers and LOUD does not necessarily equate to better. Playing louder doesn't cover up sloppy playing or singing either. I just magnifies it.

I realize not every church can or does have the highest caliber of musicians or vocalists. For those that do, use them to the glory of God, whatever the style! For those who don't, it's no shame. It's wrong to think we all have to be doing the same thing, i.e. style, when it comes to worship. There is nothing unBibical about a single piano--or no instrument at all--and God's people gathered, singing the great hymns of the past...and present. We need churches like that. Some people just prefer singing from the hymnal. Not everyone knows who "Casting Crowns" I don't, and if I do, it's news to me. I've just heard others mention them. By the same token, it is NOT wrong to have a contemporary worship style in your church service, provided the focus is God, it honors God and focuses the congregation on our Heavenly Father and it is done with excellence.

We attended a church a few weeks ago that was definitely contemporary styled in worship. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I found myself singing along on a few of the songs I knew because the entire service was obviously well rehearsed, the instrumentalists were incredibly good, and the vocalists exceptionally gifted. I heard PARTS (soprano, alto, tenor and bass)!!! There were slides, lights, and some very nice camera work by the video crew, all projected on the multiple screens. I could focus my attention on worship because I wasn't distracted by how poorly the whole thing was put together or how badly the [fill in instrument or vocalist here] was.

Some people may say that I'm focusing on the wrong things, too many of the little things. The drums, guitars, keyboards, and lights don't matter...and you're right in the overall scheme of things. But you know something, if the "little things" don't matter, I've got to wonder why God spent so much time on laying out the details, the little things of worship when he gave Moses the details for constructing the tabernacle and the manner of worship that would take place there.

God deserves our BEST...regardless of the style.

Friday, April 16, 2010

T4G (Together for the Gospel)

T4G_01Just a few thoughts about attending T4G this week.

Fellowship - I went to T4G with Scott and his son, Luke; I've known them for years. Scott and I have been in a Bible study together for at least 16 years. We've attended several of the Shepherd's Conferences together as well. It's always a great time discussing the sermons/sessions, talking about what's going on in our lives, bouncing ideas off each other related to lessons we're writing, etc. We also like to eat and check out the local attractions. While in Louisville, KY, we visited the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. All three of us love baseball.

Worship - at T4G is an amazing experience. Nearly 7000 --mostly men-- lifting their voices in praise to our awesome God and Savior, led by Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

The Word - The "theme" of the week The Unadjusted Gospel was presented in unique and amazing ways by all of the speakers. Highlights for me were RC Sproul, John MacArthur and John Piper.

Books - The bookstore at T4G is MASSIVE! Of course, I spent more than I should have. I picked up MacArthur's Luke Commentary - Volume 1, Philip Ryken's commetary on Luke, and James Montomgery Boice's 4-volume commentary on name a few. Also bought the ESV Journaling Bible; looking forward to using it as soon as possible.

Matt Chandler - I knew very little about this brother in Christ until this week. His testimony, his strength and humility are a humbling thing to witness. God is using him in an amazing way, not only at the church where he ministers, but in the lives of most anyone that has the privilege of meeting/hearing him. Click here for Matt's session at T4G

T4G couldn't have come at a better time in my life. I needed a time of refreshing and this week was just that. The sermons, the worship, the fellowship and just having the time to reflect on God, His blessings and the magnificence of the Gospel have renewed my spirit and given me the courage/strength to move forward in some areas of my life that been stagnant the past few months.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nook eBook Reader

I recently purchased a Nook, Barnes and Noble's eBook reader. I looked at Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader before making my decision. I was able to preview the Sony Reader at Best Buy; I read LOTS of reviews for Amazon's Kindle and the decision came down to:
- I didn't like the buttons on the face of the Kindle.
- The Kindle reportedly uses/used Sprint's wireless network (more about that later)
- I just didn't like the look and feel of the Sony Reader

The Nook measures 4.9 inches by 7.7 inches, slightly larger than your average paperback, but much thinner--only a half-inch thick! Navigation is via color touchscreen at the bottom of the device. From there, you can view your library of downloaded eBooks, as well as purchase eBooks from B&N.

To purchase books, you can search/browse B&N's entire catalog of eBooks for FREE via AT&Ts 3G wireless network (yep, I said FREE). Just select your book and it's immediately downloaded directly to the Nook. No connecting to your PC required. (The Kindle uses the Sprint network which I have for my cell phone and I HATE it. One of the main reasons I went with the Nook.)

The reading display utilizes E ink® Vizplex™ technology which makes reading outdoors just as easy as indoors. (Note: the display is not backlight--it's not necessary. Backlighting would also drain battery power.) You can make the font bigger or smaller, and change the font face --there are two serifed faces and one sans serif face to choose from. I prefer the sans serif Helvetica font. (Serifs are those little "spurs" at the top and/or bottom of the letters...and no, I didn't have to look that up. I'm a font geek--goes back to my commercial art days in college.)

The Nook boasts it can store up to 1300 books...even more with its MicroSD slot (not available on the Kindle). New releases typically run $9.99 with earlier releases around $5.99.

The Nook also has a built-in audio player (MP3) which works fairly well. I don't care for the way it creates playlists, but I didn't buy it for the audio, so it's really no big deal.

B&N states the Nook's battery lasts 10 hours if you don't keep the wireless feature turned on. I haven't seen that kind of battery life and apparently, neither have a multitude of other Nook owners. That's really the only beef I have with the device. So far, I've been recharging about every third day. I can live with it, but I'm hoping future software upgrades will remedy the battery situation.

Overall, I love it. I've already read David Baldacci's "True Blue" and I'm currently working my way through Francis Chan's "Crazy Love" and "Super Freakonomics" by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. What I like most is the fact that I can carry several books with me wherever I go. No more running out of stuff to read.

More Nook info here: