Monthly Archives: January 2010

What’s That Around Your Neck

I stepped out to the railing for a little solitude and meditation when I noticed some movement on the water. We had been on the open sea for nearly 24 hours, a couple of hundred miles from any land. We had another 30 hours to go before we were in sight of the coast of New Zealand. I saw a bird making big figure-eight sweeps, just above the water. It was not a seagull. It was a huge white bird gliding effortlessly along beside the ship. It was an albatross. Soon it was joined by another. Together they systematically watched and fished from one side of the ship, around the back to the other side. Over and over, hour after hour, they followed the ship across the ocean. Apparently, big ships stir up good fish.

That night near gale-force winds blew for hours. The next morning the birds were back at their posts, seemingly unfazed by the hard night. Two days later we saw the rugged point near the lighthouse where the Southern Royal Albatross nest. Their wing span can be nine feet from tip to tip. Over the course of two years they will circle the earth and then return to their nests. Breed, raise their chicks and start the journey anew.

I knew only one thing about the albatross: you don’t want one hanging around your neck. I did not know the story behind the saying. The sailors of old thought the albatross was almost magical because of the way it seemed to float in the air beside their ships. Maybe, they thought, it carried the souls of sailors to protect them. In the 1798 poem by Samuel Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the old sailor needlessly kills an albatross, then the wind stops blowing becalming the ship. In their anger, the crew takes the albatross and hangs it around the offender’s neck as punishment. The key line says: Instead of the cross, the albatross / About my neck was hung. Somehow the albatross has become a symbol of a hindrance or unwanted burden, rather than a symbol of strength, endurance and perseverance. Today some wear a cross around their necks for jewelry alone, no longer a true symbol of the suffering, shame and punishment for our sins.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Take up your cross. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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I experienced the movie “Avatar.” The James Cameron film won for 2009 Best Picture and Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday. The movie-goer is transported to a lush and rich world where the inhabitants live in harmony. With its stunning visual imagery and compelling computer generated effects, I found myself feeling, at times, that I was participating in the story. That is different from just watching a movie. This film is best viewed on the big screen in 3D. The 3D glasses of today are vastly improved over the paper viewers of the past.

This is a message movie. In his acceptance speech at the awards, Cameron said he wanted to promote the message that “Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected. If you have to go 4½ light years to another planet to appreciate the world we have right here, you know what? That’s the wonder of cinema. That’s the magic.” There are a couple of other obvious messages in the film left for the pondering.

The side story has been that some people have reported being depressed after viewing the movie. The cause of the depression seems to be that after encountering the richness of the fictional world, their personal life seems dull, discouraged and conflicted. I believe attending movies and watching TV is called “escapism” for a reason. For each of us the question really becomes: where is our hope and what can we do to better our very real world? The answer is found not by worshipping the creation, but by following the Creator. Hope comes through faithfulness to Christ, who has promised to always be with us through all things, even to the end of the ages. Our world is lush and rich and full of life. We are the ones who make it dull and discouraging and depressing. The destructiveness and conflict is in each of us, but for the believer, so is the spirit of God.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Be faithful. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Health Care Coverage

On quite possibly the slowest news day in Tulsa’s history (Nov 20, 2006), the Tulsa World ran my picture with a front page article on my health coverage plan. There were bigger pictures of Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood telling about their part, the previous night, in Tulsa’s celebration of Oklahoma’s Centennial. The health care reform legislation that is making its way through congress is better described, from my perspective, as an attempt at health insurance reform.

I believe sick people should have full access to qualified health coverage options. I do not have health insurance. I am part of a Christian medical cooperative that takes Galatians 6:2 literally. I have been a part of this program for over ten years. We switched to this plan when my traditional health insurance company raised rates to a level unaffordable by a church of our size. The reason for the newspaper article became apparent in 2007, when the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner launched a “fact finding” effort about my coverage. Soon the commissioner ruled that my cooperative could not enroll anyone else in Oklahoma, but would allow those already in the program to continue. Then the commissioner stopped the program altogether. This forced us to go with a major health insurance company at more than double the rates. (I was not eligible for Oklahoma’s public option plan, Insure Oklahoma.)

Changing to traditional insurance not only caused the premiums to more than double, but the deductible went from $250 to $2,500. At one point that company tried to deny coverage because they claimed that my annual physical was a pre-existing condition! But after a year long, almost miraculous effort, with help from Governor Henry and local state representatives and senators, legislation was passed to reinstate the medical cooperative program. Even after it was signed into law, it took some months for the insurance commissioner to re-authorize our program.

I wonder, sometimes, if maybe we ought to be looking deeper—who did Jesus want healthy and whole?

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Share others’ burdens. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.

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Australia and New Zealand

When we left New Zealand on December 22, it was summertime. We came home to one day of cool weather followed by the blizzard that will not go away. I am starting to have an exaggerated fondness for Oklahoma summers. There is hope. The forecast calls for temperatures as high as 37° for Sunday, January 10. This winter, too, shall pass. I have noticed over the years that some winters are harder than others; some springs are wetter; some summers are drier; and some autumns are just perfect. This gives us all something to talk about when we don’t have anything to say.

Dorothy and I were gone for three full weeks. That’s the longest we have ever been away from home since we have been married. I would like to share some of our experiences with you. This Sunday morning we will be talking about some of the lessons that we learned while ministering with the people of the Annerley Baptist Church in Brisbane, Australia. Our emphasis was on prayer and encouragement. It was a busy, yet refreshing time. God has a good family and we live and serve all over the world.

Following our time in Brisbane, we flew to Sydney and spent two nights and one day exploring the city. Dorothy’s brother and sister-in-law joined us there. We all made our way to a ship where we spent 12 days exploring Melbourne, Tasmania, and the southern and eastern coasts of New Zealand. Our world is filled with amazing people and places. Things went as well as they could possibly go for a journey of nearly 18,000 miles. This has served as a mini-sabbatical for us. A time for mission, adventure, rest and renewal. I read a book of historical fiction, took 689 pictures and enjoyed wonderful dinners with new friends. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean were relatively calm, but we did encounter strong winds on two nights, which rocked us soundly to sleep.

I want to thank the people of the Braden Park Baptist Church for providing us the time away for this experience. Also, I would like to thank the Tulsa Metro Baptist Association for providing a scholarship for the Brisbane mission effort and honoraria for our worship guests. A personal word of appreciation goes to Dino Zaragoza for his leadership and pastoral care during this time. The Annerley Baptist Church asked me to convey their warmest blessings and greetings to you, and to say an extra word of gratefulness to Glenn McKinley for his family’s ministry with them in Brisbane in 1962-63, and for his prayers throughout the years.

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Stay warm. And let’s experience the power of God together.

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