I did not know what I was anticipating, but Taz was not what I expected. If you ever want to encounter some of the most dangerous, vicious and poisonous creatures in the entire world, they are located in Australia. Dorothy and I were exploring Tasmania when I came face to face with two Tasmanian Devils. They were cute little guys, looking somewhat like small black dogs running at full speed but with no place to go. When one opened his mouth I was glad there was a wall between us. We were at an animal refuge outside of Hobart. When Taz is hungry he will eat anything he can get his teeth into. A small pack of these devils will eat a kangaroo, bones and all, while screaming and biting at the others to stay away. Their favorite food is road kill—the longer dead, the better.
I was expecting a much larger animal. Taz is a marsupial, like the kangaroo, panda and koala. I grew up watching those Looney Tune cartoons of the Tasmanian Devil spinning around in a cloud of dust ready to intimidate anyone. The cartoon Taz is a softy compared to the real deal. Yet the real devils are dying of cancer at an alarming rate. The only ones left are in Tasmania and a few zoos around the world, yet all of them are contracting a facial cancer that is fatal. Scientists are working very hard to isolate a few, hoping to keep them from extinction.
The devils are dying. They appear to be condemned by something scarier than they are. One day I heard a pastor praying at one of our gatherings, only his prayer sort of veered off so he could use a faulty sermon illustration about how sin is the cancer of our lives. I talked with him about it after the meeting. I believe it is wrong to equate sin with cancer. I know what he was trying to say, but it is hard enough for someone to face cancer without us preachers adding the false equation that a person’s sin equals their cancer or that their cancer equals their sin. As mean as they may be, the little Taz devils’ cancer is not their fault. Neither is it anyone else’s.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
We live in this magical time when I can be driving to work listening to the podcast of Dr. Joyce Jones leading chapel service at the George W. Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas, held just two days earlier. She is the long-time Bowden Professor of Music and Organist in Residence at Baylor University. In her own inimitable style she led the worship, shared a brief history of the organ and provided a verse of Scripture for all future church organists to quote whenever someone complains that “The organ is too loud.” Psalm 33:3 says in part, “Play skillfully with a loud noise.” (American Standard Version)
I am married to a church organist. Dorothy began playing the piano as a child and became a choir accompanist in junior high. She was asked to become the church organist for Central Baptist Church in Waco when she was in high school, and served there through her days at Baylor. She and our church pianist, Margaret VanHorn, and their friend Jeanette Maxfield, a leader in the Tulsa Organ Guild, traveled together on a few occasions to attend Joyce Jones’ organ workshops at Baylor. They are all very aware that fewer people in America are growing up to be church organists. The keyboard is replacing the piano and the organ in our churches. Even great keyboardists are mystified when confronted with a real organ. The positive side of this is that more people are available to accompany the praises of God’s people in worship. The negative is that we are quickly losing the fullness and richness of church organs across our land.
One of Dr. Jones’ signature hymns is “The Church in the Wildwood.” She manages to work it into many of her concerts, if only for a few lines. The “little brown church in the vale” probably did not have an organ in the aftermath of civil war Iowa, yet the refrain “O come, come, come, come” still lingers for those of us who remember this old song. That is the power of church music—not the organ, not the piano, not even the keyboard with the drums—it’s the Spirit in our heart and the message of God’s praise on our lips.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Sing joyfully. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
Why can’t professional, world-ranking tennis players serve a fair ball across the net on the first try? I don’t understand the fascination of the game, mainly because I never learned the rules or really tried to play it. I watch a little tennis because our daughter, Dayna, loves tennis. She loves tennis so much that she and Kevin once flew to England to stay with one of her best internet friends so they all could attend the French Open in Paris.* This summer they attended the Davis Cup in Austin. Her favorite player right now is Rafa Nadal from Spain. She so hoped he would beat Novak Djokovic, who is the number one ranked tennis player in the world, this week at the US Open. One of the most endearing qualities of Nadal, according to Dayna, is the way he exudes humility and grace in the face of victory or defeat. His rivals seem to be less charitable.**
According to my tennis-loving daughter, the three top men’s tennis players are locked in a struggle for the ultimate success. Rafa Nadal has won 10 major titles plus Olympic gold and the Davis Cup. But now this year he’s lost six straight finals to Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Djokovic has won four majors, gaining three of those just this year. In 2011, Djokovic has played 66 matches and only lost two times, one to Switzerland’s Roger Federer. Federer is considered by many to be the greatest tennis player of all time, winning a record 16 major titles. Yet Federer consistently loses to Nadal.
So, if you are still following this: Nadal (#2) prefers to play Federer (#3); Federer prefers to play Djokovic (#1); Djokovic prefers to play Nadal. True to form – and unfortunately for Dayna – the 2011 US Open victory went to Djokovic. Six times this year Rafa Nadal has lost his opportunity to gain another title. Yet at the press conference following each match, Nadal seeks to deflect criticism of his opponent and focus on what that game has taught him about himself.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Face it all with grace. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
* Photo of Rafael Nadal taken at the 2011 French Open by Corinne Noetzli of Zurich, Switzerland. Dayna met Corinne on her trip to the French Open in 2004 and they continue to be devoted friends and tennis followers.
** For comparison purposes, here are responses of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal following their losses this week to Novak Djokovic.
Over the Memorial Day weekend of 2001, an injured mallard landed in our backyard. This duck was frightened of us, and we did not know what to do with her. We gave her food and water, bought a little swimming pool and named her Dory. Over time she began to trust us, and even our cat who wanted to be out where all the excitement was taking place. The cat learned to control her instinct to chase the duck. The duck restrained her instinct to attack the cat. Eventually they learned to hunt for crickets together. The cat would catch a cricket and then proceed to play with her prey. The duck could not tolerate a cat playing with her food. She would quickly reach in and gobble up the cricket, always leaving a surprised cat starring into the grass.
The summer of 2001 was a particularly emotional and stressful time for Dorothy and me. We took the arrival of the duck as a sign that God wanted us to find the smile in the midst of it all. The church was going through the difficult discussions about changing its name from White City to Braden Park. The vote to make the change came in June and some dear friends turned and walked away. Vacation Bible School and Youth Camp were stronger than ever, and our youngest daughter Dayna, and her husband Kevin, were preparing to move to the mission field. On August 5th our church ordained Kevin and on August 20th we watched them board a plane for Changchun, China. Towards the last week of August, Dory began to try to fly again. In the evenings she would proudly show us her accomplishments of high jumps with much flapping of wings. One day she flew high enough to land on the other side of the privacy fence only to meet the neighbor’s big barking dog. She flew back in an instant and decided to take a day off from flying lessons.
One evening she saw a flock of ducks fly over the house. The next night she showed us how she could fly up on our roof. As the weekend approached she began to circle out over the houses and fields, always coming home for supper. On Labor Day 2001 Dory the Duck took off and never came back. Ours was not really her home. What a special gift we were given from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Eight days later came the attacks of September 11, and a different kind of emotion flooded our world. Then we remembered how God would give us a sign of His love through it all.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Pause and remember. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.