Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Nothing Unusual Ever Happens Around Here

What follows is an inspirational Christmas commentary from Dr. Ray Pritchard's web log by the title of "Nothing Unusual Ever Happens Around Here." I thought that this would be a good setting to share my family photos from Christmas 2006.

Nothing Unusual Ever Happens Around Here
By Dr. Ray Pritchard

Bethlehem, December 25, 2000 Years Ago--It's been a quiet day in our little town. Local police reported no suspicious activity in the last 24 hours.

The Greater Hebron Chamber of Commerce said yesterday that they project a 50% increase in tourism next year as a result of the decree by Caesar Augustus. Since Bethlehem is only five miles south of Jerusalem, we can expect a steady stream of travelers. Abraham ben Sirach, manager of the Bethlehem Visitors Bureau, announced that the annual Judean Shepherds Convention will return to town for the fourth straight year.

Meanwhile area tradesmen report a booming business. The local inns are booked solid for the next few nights. If you do not have a reservation before coming to Bethlehem, forget it. You'll be sleeping under the stars. Jacob Samuelson, proprietor of the Bethlehem Inn, reported that all his rooms were reserved six months ago by a fig-traders caravan from Beersheba.

The local Rabbis council met yesterday to discuss the appearance in Jerusalem of three visitors from Persia. Reportedly, they told King Herod that they were seeking someone born "King of the Jews." When the scribes told the king that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, he appointed his top aide for Jewish affairs, Michael Rosenberg, to investigate the matter.

No one seems to know where the three visitors came from or why they made the trip. One of the foreigners referred to a certain "star in the east" that led them across the desert. Soon after their interview with King Herod, the three mysterious visitors disappeared. Some say they came to Bethlehem, but that seems unlikely given the shortage of rooms. Probably they decided to vacation in Jericho for a few days before returning to Persia.

In an apparently unrelated event, several amateur star gazers reported a bright light just after sundown. It suddenly appeared on the horizon and seemed to be moving south from Jerusalem. Rabbi Hezekiah Amot dismissed any possible connection with the "star in the east," saying, "If the Messiah were about to be born, I'd know all about it, and I haven't heard a thing."

Finally, we should report that a baby was born early this morning. A young couple from Nazareth arrived in Bethlehem late yesterday to enroll in the census. The man, a carpenter named Joseph Jacobson, brought his pregnant wife to the Bethlehem Inn at about 6:30 p.m. Since the caravan from Beersheba had taken all the rooms, they were offered space in the stable area behind the inn. Mr. Zvi Rivai, police officer and local history buff, helped them clear a spot amid the cattle and the donkeys.

The expectant mother gave birth to her son sometime around 1 AM. Her husband assisted in the delivery and then helped her wrap the child in strips of cloth. The father and mother told our reporter that they will call their son Jesus. They plan to stay in town for a few more days before traveling briefly to Egypt and then back to Nazareth.

That's the news from Bethlehem. Nothing unusual ever happens around here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

News From Rick Ochoa -- Firefight in Baqubah, Iraq

Here is the latest news from AFA employee Rick Ochoa in Baqubah, Iraq. That is Rick with his gun aimed in the photo at the right rear of the Humvee.

December 20, 2006

Hey everybody,

Merry Christmas from Iraq! Well you never know what’s going to happen when you go out on a mission! Last Saturday we went to a neighborhood and after searching it, we passed out candy and school supplies to the little kids. Yesterday we got into a hell of a firefight that lasted for almost two hours resulting in 5-6 bad guys killed!

We went out for a supposedly easy search mission in a different neighborhood. As we were traveling to the objective we took some moderately heavy sniper fire and pushed through that. Upon arriving at the objective we found it deserted. We dismounted some of our guys in order to begin the search. But within a few minutes we were taking well aimed coordinated fire from three sides. Then an RPG hit one of the Iraqi vehicles behind me in the muffler (no damage). Next a mortar round (the first of 5-6) hit about 40 yards in front of me. By now machinegun fire from directly down the street was pouring in.

The decision was quickly made to take a nearby three story building for the high ground advantage. The four of us who had dismounted moved into the building on our left while our two vehicles were putting out suppressive fire down the street and to our right. Once we were in the building CPTs Holditch and McEwen went up to the roof with Doc Curry. They began calling in artillery and helicopters to take out the mortars shooting at us. Meanwhile I was directing the Iraqi soldiers on the 1st and second floor to keep up effective suppressive fire from the windows and back terrace. About then one of the Iraqi soldiers got hit in the arm but after Doc dressed his wound he picked up his weapon and got back in the fight.

In the confusion of the fight the Iraqi commander ordered his vehicles to pull back and that left the four of us in the building with a squad of Jundis (Iraqi soldiers). Back down on the street our two vehicles were disabled by small arms fire to the radiators and oil lines. (There were 46 bullet holes in one alone.) Our position was untenable until we could get reinforced or get helicopters on station. So the decision was made to exfiltrate the building. We then had to make a mad dash out of the building and back up the street to our downed vehicles with the wounded Iraqi soldier. The vehicles couldn't come to us so we had to go to them. (It was a good sixty yard dash under fire.) Meanwhile the gun trucks though disabled continued to pour fire at our attackers killing several.

Finally the Helicopters arrived on scene and so did Coalition reinforcements with some Bradley Fighting Vehicles and we finished off the enemy, secured the neighborhood and searched it completing our mission. A large weapons cache was found in the vicinity as well as several dead bodies. Several other Iraqi soldiers got wounded including one who ran out of the building to get an RPG and was shot as he was returning to help us.

During all of this time two of my teammates were wounded slightly by shrapnel from bullet ricochets. SFC Kennedy got cut on his hand from a bullet that hit his .50 CAL machinegun and CPT Holditch took a slight wound in his forearm from a bullet fragment ricocheting off the wall. Somehow I sprained my ankle (not badly). The fight lasted almost two hours... but in the end we killed 5 or 6 of the bad guys! So I guess my angels were working overtime today! Please continue to pray for Team Alamo

Take care and Merry Christmas!

SFC Rick Ochoa
FOB Gabe, Baqubah, Iraq

As we celebrate Christmas in America this year, please take a moment to send Rick Ochoa an encouraging email and be sure to lift him and his team up in prayer. My prayer is that we will flood his e-mail this Christmas and New years with and outpouring of our love and support from the home front. His e-mail address is

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Nativity Story

As an AFA employee, I was invited to attend a screening of “The Nativity Story” which is now playing in theaters across the nation. I whole-heartedly recommend that you see it. This may come as a shock to you but Hollywood got it right on this one. As a movie goes, it adheres closely to the details of the scriptural text. That alone should be reason enough for believers to support it at the box office so that we might encourage Hollywood to give us more of the good stuff in the future.

The Advent/Christmas season is a time for Christians to think about Chapter One of the Greatest Story Ever Told and the experience of this movie for me was a powerful preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Please go to see “The Nativity Story.” Take your family or better yet your Sunday School class. Or, even better, take a lost friend for whom you have been praying.

I like this from film critic Frederica Matthewes-Green, "If you thought Hollywood was incapable of approaching Christians without a cattle prod, you'll be shocked at how circumspect this movie is. There is nothing in this film to offend devout Christians (parents note, however, a PG rating for some glimpses of crucifixion) but solemnity rolls through it all like molasses."

What follows is a good review of “The Nativity Story” from R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- My family and I attended a media screening for The Nativity Story the other night. The movie is in season and on message. In other words, the movie faithfully presents the main thrust of the Christmas story. That is no small achievement.

The movie, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, takes some liberties with the biblical accounts found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Nevertheless, the invented scenes and dialogue do not distract from the biblical storyline. The screenplay by Mike Rich presents key truths such as the virgin conception and deity of Jesus with unambiguous clarity and artistic force.

The Gospel accounts are the starting point for any telling of the story, of course. At the same time, there is no comprehensive biblical narrative that fills in every detail. We are left with huge questions. Joseph is described in the New Testament merely as a "righteous man" who believed God and obeyed angelic visions. When Mary is found to be "with child," Joseph decides to put her away privately, rather than to defend his own honor through a public accusation against his betrothed bride. Beyond these facts, we know little of Joseph the carpenter. Yet, as a character in this movie, Joseph is almost as developed as the character of Mary.

The movie presents invented dialogue and situations including a focus upon Mary's parents and family, the village of Nazareth, the emergence of Joseph, and Mary's relationship with her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

Invented scenes include an imagined version of the pilgrimage to Bethlehem (including a river crossing scene, complete with a threatening snake) and representations of the brutal oppression of the Jews by King Herod the Great -- a character who can hardly be imagined as more evil than he actually was. The film also attempts to convey the messianic hopes of the Jewish people, suffering under multiple levels of oppression.

Rich, who wrote the script, explained his decision to expand the story: "The only way to tell the story was to try and take that foundation in Matthew and Luke and expand upon it, while at the same time being very faithful to the spirit, tone and content of those Gospels." The same is basically true of nativity plays presented in churches across America.

The most extravagant display of that creativity involves the Magi. As presented in the movie, the Magi provide historical context, important dialogue and a degree of comic relief. Yet, these men are presented in a believable manner, without farce. Of course, the Gospel of Matthew never specifies a number of the Magi (stipulating only the three gifts), much less their names. The movie simply assumes the tradition of three Magi named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar -- a European tradition traceable only to the seventh century.

In order to present the Magi in Bethlehem the night of Jesus' birth, the movie suggests that these wise men from the East had seen the astronomical event of the star in the making and had left for Bethlehem months before Christ's birth. In any event, the Magi provide some of the most important Christological material found in the film.

When it comes to the virgin birth, the divinity and the saving mission of the Christ Child, the movie never blinks. Cinematographers may find fault with the presentation of the angels and the voice of God, but I have the sense that where the director had to choose between accuracy and artistry, accuracy often won. For that decision Christians should be thankful.

The film succeeds in presenting the humanity of the central characters and in building a sense of expectancy. There is little suspense in the movie, of course. We know the story.

Christian parents will want to discuss the movie with their children. Which parts of the movie can be traced to which biblical texts? Were the other parts of the movie faithful to the main storyline? How much of what Christians think they know about the nativity story is actually in the Bible at all?

Should the story of Jesus be reduced to film? That question is not as easily dismissed as some might think. Nevertheless, "The Nativity Story" is the first major Hollywood studio film in many years to deal with a biblical story. In fact, World magazine reviewer Steve Beard reports that "The Nativity Story" is the first such release from a major studio since "Ben Hur" and "The Ten Commandments."

So, Hollywood has produced a major film with a national release that straightforwardly presents the central themes and events of the biblical accounts of Christ's birth. We should not let that fact pass without notice.

Monday, December 04, 2006

News From Rick Ochoa - "Doing Some Good in Baqubah, Iraq"

Yesterday we went on a pretty good mission. We did some good and at the bottom of this page you can read the news release. You probablly don't get to hear this kind of stuff on CNN but believe me there are some good things happening! Unfortunately I lost my mirror to a stray shot, (see the attached photo) but all of Team Alamo is safe and sound. Thanks for your prayers! Rick Ochoa

IA, CF Maintain Security, Stability in Baqubah
By Multi-National Division – North PAO Dec 2, 2006 - 4:22:46 PM

Blackanthem Military News, BAQUBAH, Iraq – A combined Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces offensive operation detained dozens of suspected terrorists and rescued a 16 year-old kidnapping victim today in Baqubah.

During the operation, soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army, with support from the 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, searched 124 houses, detained 44 suspected terrorists, discovered three IEDs, killed three anti-Iraqi forces and freed one kidnapping victim who had been kidnapped 25 days ago and was being held for ransom.

“This operation is a significant event for the people of Baqubah,” said Col. David W. Sutherland, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, commander and senior U.S. Army officer in the Diyala province. “Because of their efforts, the Iraqi Security Forces were able to target specific suspects responsible for disrupting the peace of every day life in Baqubah. This is a vital step toward allowing the Iraqi forces to uphold the rule of law throughout the province,” he said.

The detainees were transferred to Forward Operating Base Gabe, and the IEDs were control detonated by an explosive ordinance disposal unit.

During the operation, two Iraqi Army soldiers were wounded. The soldiers were medically evacuated to FOB Warhorse, and one of the two soldiers was then evacuated by air to Logistics Support Area Anaconda for further treatment. Both are in stable condition.

While conducting the mission, soldiers from 2/5 IA spoke to the town’s citizens about the importance of their security and stability, while other soldiers delivered blankets and other humanitarian supplies to homes throughout Baqubah.

“Through their actions today, it is clear that the Iraqi Security Forces are focused on helping maintain security and stability for the people of Baqubah and the Diyala province,” Sutherland said.

End Military News Story


Rick Ochoa sent a video clip of his promotion ceremony done in conjunction with the Iraqi soldiers he works with.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving In Iraq

Here is a Thanksgiving email along with pictures from a friend and co-worker at AFA/AFR, Rick Ochoa, who is serving our country in Iraq. Thanks Rick for your vigilance. Your email has given me a new appreciation of our American freedoms on this Thanksgiving 2006.

Email From Rick Ochoa in Iraq - November 25, 2006
We had an interesting day today! I got up early and had the opportunity to pray and have some quiet time! Then at 6:30 we assembled for PT... yes even in a war zone we try to schedule PT 3 times a week!

Well we had been working out in the gym for about 15 minutes and we got the call to respond to an attack in the area... Run back to the barracks change and get on the gun trucks! about 20 minutes later we were ready to roll, but then we were ordered to stand by... so we did ... and we waited and waited and finally it was time to go eat lunch. I was just about halfway thru it when the word came to roll out immediately! So out we went and on the trucks. We rallied with our Iraqi army counterparts and then it was time to wait and wait.

Many times this will turn into a false alarm and we will have to stand down! But after an hour or so we got the word to move out and we went to downtown Baqubah... It was deserted and there had definitely been some fighting going on... it was quiet but not for long! Suddenly small arms fire started crackling all around us... then we moved out to where we thought it was coming from... the Iraqis were in the lead... then sniper fire began zinging all around us. We couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from until two bullets hit our bumper, then we began to engage with the .50 cal machinegun and that took care of that! After that we began working with the Iraqi soldiers to clear a sector of the town of the attackers... they were bold but foolish and there are several that won't bother us any more. One was trying to shoot us with an RPG and our gunner took him out. I don't like seeing anyone get shot but better them than us!

Anyway it was a long day and we got back after dark tired and stressed, but when I went into our command post there were two big beautiful packages from you great folks at AFA!!! Thanks so much! It was great to hear from everyone that wrote! I miss you guys and am so glad y'all are praying for us! It means the world!

Well I just wanted to get this off before I turn in for the night...
Thanks and God Bless

Rick Ochoa

SSG Rick Ochoa
2/2/5 MiTT FOB Gabe,
Baqubah, Iraq
APO AE 09336

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Observations of an evangelist - by Jerry Drace

Here is a timely commentary from Evangelist Jerry Drace, Observations of an Evangelist, regarding the state of today's church. It is taken from Baptist Press - 10-25-06

Since February 1975 when God led me to establish the Jerry Drace Evangelistic Association He has allowed me to preach in more than 1,000 churches across our nation. In His divine providence He has placed me in the company of some of His choicest servants as well as some who seek to be served. Throughout the past 31 years I have kept notes and observations on each of the pastors, staffs and churches where my team and I have been privileged to present the claims of Christ. I am sure some of these observations will be misunderstood, others will be embraced. I wish to share only 13 in hopes they will serve as a catalyst for your own reflections:

-- I have observed the lowering of the standards of holiness from the pulpit to the pew. It appears we are seeking to develop happy churches, but not holy churches. One pastor stated that he wanted his people to leave the Sunday morning worship feeling "affirmed, approved and applauded". Whatever happened to leaving feeling confronted, convicted, confessed and cleansed? Spurgeon put it in perspective years ago when he said, "Of all the griefs the church ever feels, the keenest is when those who once stood in her midst dishonor the name of Christ by unholy living."

-- I have observed the seductive fashions of the world being worn in the worship centers of our churches. Teenage girls and sometimes their mothers wear clothes to church they neither could wear to school nor in the workplace. The same applies to the male gender. We have developed such a laxity in our attire the result has numbed the spiritual senses of being in the presence of Deity. I am fully aware that God looks on the heart, but clothing, or the lack thereof, should not distract from looking into His face.

-- I have observed more and more churches having fewer and fewer revivals. Of course, the rural church will always hold a revival, whether they actually have one or not, the third week of August. Vance Havner once said, "Preachers speak of 'holding revivals'. Somebody ought to turn one loose!" Real revival -- which takes prayer and preparation and sees scores ushered into the Kingdom and church members rekindling the fire within -- is quickly giving way to one-day events. We have stopped singing "Take Time To Be Holy," because we don't have the time.

-- I have observed more and more churches decreasing from mortification rather than increasing due to salvation. There is more life outside in most church cemeteries than inside on the pews. At least in the cemeteries the grass grows and the flowers bloom. If there is not a revival in our land many of our rural churches will become bed and breakfast inns and our larger churches will be turned into antique malls. If you don't believe this, visit Great Britain.

-- I have observed more and more churches growing by transferring letters rather than transforming lives. It doesn't take a genius to build a church numerically. Given the right staff and programs you can fill a church. However, there is an eternal difference between filling a church with people and filling the people inside the church.

-- I have observed more and more pastors and evangelists preaching someone else’s sermons rather than studying and preaching their own. The call to preach has been replaced with the desire to succeed. Being an expounder of the Word requires time alone with God. Being a mouth for God to the people of God is an awesome responsibility. Preaching someone else's anointed sermon doesn't guarantee your anointment. If the sermon isn't gathered and set ablaze in the pastor's heart it likely won't spread to the hearts of the church members. Some of the greatest proclaimers of the Good News are seldom heard because they neither pastor a mega church nor are the featured speakers on Christian cruises.

-- I have observed unethical and even immoral conduct by religious leaders with little or no remorse on their part once their deeds were made public. The graveyard of compromise is filled with those who listened to the sirens of the world. Accountability and integrity were sacrificed for personal gain and puffed-up egos. When Christian leaders become legends in their own minds the ice has already broken.

-- I have observed the policies of the community dictating the policies of the church, especially in the area of sports. We now schedule the events of the church around the athletic calendar of our schools or recreational departments. We have surrendered to the god of sports. Many of our parents allow their children to play their favorite sport on Sunday morning with the rationale, "What can we do about it?" These same parents wouldn't allow their children to skip school for a church event. We even close our churches on Sunday nights if it is a national holiday. Good thing God doesn't cancel His services.

-- I have observed more and more churches teaching the latest trends in church growth rather than the doctrines of the Scriptures. We have churches full of people who can quote from the latest church growth guru, but for the life of them they can neither recall nor defend any of the doctrines of the Bible. We can be seeker friendly and purpose driven, but if we fail to seek Christ and find our purpose in Him alone all the books, seminars and mega conferences will only impede the salvation of the lost and the disciplining of the saved.

-- I have observed us becoming a people who enjoy the expression of worship without encountering the experience of worship. No one enjoys beautiful choruses more than me, yet with the freedom of style which this has ushered into our churches we must be careful not to allow our performance to overshadow His presence. Celebration without commitment leads to worthless worship.

-- I have observed religion becoming big business. Christian recording artists are now referred to as superstars and certain pastors are touted as religious CEOs. Religious leaders have evolved from troublers of society to trend-setters in society. We have religious personalities who are known as much for their political creeds as their theological convictions. Simple statements from the Bible are marketed into multimillion dollar enterprises. An executive in a Christian publication company once told me, "It's all about the buck." You half expect to see certain religious organizations listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

-- I have observed a few proclaimers who have comprised their call because of a cowardly commitment to the truths of God's Word. This brings about a deceitful delivery of devilish doctrines. The end result is a man who panders to the people and prostitutes the proclamation in the process. When wickedness enters the doors of the church it soon spreads throughout the land without any opposition. Satan himself could not have better allies than pastors who refuse to preach the truths of the Scriptures and church members who refuse to live godly lives.

-- I have observed a righteous remnant in every church who have a hunger and thirst for experiencing God to the fullest. It is this group, both young and old, who will pass on the teachings and doctrines of Holy Scripture to the next generation. Praise God for ministers and members who are not driven by fashions and trends, but remain faithful and true to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Jerry Drace is a past president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. In addition to revivals and area wide crusades, he and his wife, Becky, conduct Hope for the Home conferences. They live in Jackson, Tenn. More information about the Draces is available at and

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Larnelle Harris At AFA Offices Today

Here at AFA and AFR we have been looking forward to a visit from one of my all time favorite Chrisitan music artists, Larnelle Harris, who is here today to help us promote Pastor Appreciation Month. If you are not familiar with Larnelle, he is an amazing volalist and composer. Take a look at his many awards and accolades.

We spent the day today on AFR urging our listeners to pray daily for their pastor! Click here for a form to let us know that you are praying for your pastor. If the pastor you honored wins the prize pack they become qualified for the grand prize drawing - a cabin for two on the AFR Family Fun Cruise! Throughout this special day, they will announce the names of pastors that are being prayed for.

Tamara Durham in our office suprised me with a snapshot she took of my little visit with Larnelle following our staff devotional time where he had shared a couple of songs and words this morning. Wow! What an annointed powerful vocalist who has so faithfully carried the Lord's song all around this nation and world! Larnelle shared from his heart and God's Word in Ephesians 6 about how our pastor's are under spiritual attack and in desperate need of the prayers of God's people. It was obvious from Larnell's words that he clearly understands the all-out spiritual attack which all Christian leaders are under and God's pathway to victory.

Larnelle and I chatted for a few moments this morning and it didn't take long until the conversation turned to our grandchildren. I also took the opportunity to reminisce with him a little about his visit to Tupelo in the mid nineties when AFR sponsored his concert at the Tupelo Civic Auditorium where I directed a 50 voice back up choir for him. I will never forget the experience of sharing a time of minsitry with this incredible servant of the Kingdom.

Friday, October 13, 2006

My Mom & Dad on WTVA's "The Traveler"

I called my Mom and Dad, Joan and Marion Smith, on the way home from the office on Wednesday and Dad made some unusual comment about "how it must have been a slow news day." I questioned him about the comment and he told me that Tupelo's NBC television affiliate, WTVA, had come by the their house and done an interview about his backyard museum which he named Poppas Country. WTVA does a weekly segment on their Thursday editions of their newscasts where they spotlight a town in their viewing area. This was the week for my hometown of Ackerman, Missississippi, and apparently someone at City Hall sent them to see Mom and Dad.

Dad is not threatened by a TV camera and is a natural entertainer so this was a no big deal for him. On the contrary, my Mom is different story. She told me that they caught her "on the way from the butter bean patch" and put her on camera. She sounded profoundly bothered by the intrusion but hoped that she came across okay which she did.

Please take a look and listen and send my Dad and Mom a note. I'm sure that they would love to hear from you -

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Study reveals brain activity of patient in ‘vegetative state’

This article from Baptist Press (below) provides proof that our Justice system was wrong in the Case of Terri Shiavo in 2005. I spoke at the Rose Rally for Terri at the Capitol in Tallahassee on March 13, 2005 on behalf of American Family Association. As Terri was being starved to death by way of a court order, we were rallingFlorida legislators and Govenor Bush to intervene in the killing of this innocent woman. I spent time on that somber day with Terri's parents; Bob and Mary Schindler. I found them to be God fearing people who were doing everthing possible to fight for their daughters life while mainting an icredible faith in God. My heart went out to them as I honestly don't know what I would do had I been the one in their shoes.

In “Fighting for Dear Life: The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo and What It Means for All of Us,” David Gibbs, who took the case at the request of Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, offers a firsthand account of the family’s emotional struggle to keep their daughter alive, the legal appeals that moved through the Florida courts and the effort to protect Schiavo with state and federal legislation. Click Here to order the book from AFA.

Study reveals brain activity of patient in ‘vegetative state
By Gregory Tomlin
Baptist Press
Sep 11, 2006

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A patient said to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) had the capacity to understand and respond to verbal commands, a team of European researchers reported in the journal Science Sept. 8.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to examine the brain of a woman who was critically injured in an automobile accident in July 2005. When they provided voice commands, such as instructions to imagine herself in a game of tennis, portions of the woman’s brain showed a surprising amount of activity, not unlike those of healthy people who agreed to participate in the same study.

“Her decision to cooperate ... by imaging particular tasks when asked to do so represents a clear act of intention, which confirmed beyond any doubt that she was consciously aware of herself and her surroundings,” the researchers noted in the study.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the results of the study were “very encouraging to this woman and those treating her.” He said the same kind of tests “should be done on all people who have this kind of brain injury to help us determine whether they are in a persistent vegetative state or whether they are in a minimally conscious state and the degree to which there is any hope for recovery of brain function.”

The findings have rekindled the debate surrounding the starvation death of Terri Schiavo in 2005 and are prompting further discussion of long-term care for brain-damaged patients. Southern Baptist ethicists are calling the findings further proof that, when there is doubt, the justice system should side with life. They also said the justice system had clearly erred in the Schiavo case.

Schiavo died of complications from dehydration after husband Michael Schiavo and pro-euthanasia attorney George Felos successfully argued before a Florida court to have her feeding tube disconnected. She had been receiving nutrition and hydration through a tube since her collapse and subsequent brain injury in 1990.

C. Ben Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a research fellow with the ERLC, said the new study is a reminder “that we know far less than we think we know about what is happening in the brain of comatose patients.”

“In this case, the patient was hardly ‘vegetative.’ In fact, she was quite alive. A PVS diagnosis should not be a death sentence, but a cause for special care. We may well be caring for someone who is aware of every conversation, every act of compassion, and every hint of abandonment,” Mitchell said.

Initially, Michael Schiavo pledged to take care of his wife for the remainder of her natural life, but after he received a $1.2 million medical malpractice settlement in 1992, he refused to provide further rehabilitative services for her. In 1998, he filed suit in court to have Terri’s life ended, arguing that Terri had stated that she would not want to live in a persistent vegetative state. The court accepted the hearsay as evidence of Terri Schiavo’s end of life wishes.

The decision to allow Schiavo to die touched off a 12-year legal battle in which the parents of Terri Schiavo, Bob and Mary Schindler, argued that their daughter was able to respond to their voices and verbal commands, just as the patient in the most recent study had. Bob Schindler issued a statement following the publication of the findings last week.

“This new case is not surprising to our family,” Schindler said. “We are seeing a growing amount of evidence indicating that the diagnosis of ‘Persistent Vegetative State’ (PVS) is often mis-diagnosed, resulting in dangerous and potentially fatal consequences for people with brain injuries, as documented in this new account of a brain injured woman. The danger of this diagnosis is that it is being used as a reason to kill innocent people with disabilities, like Terri. We believe that this PVS diagnosis is inhumane and it should be abolished.”

Land echoed the sentiment, saying that the PVS diagnosis could lead to a barbaric conclusion to life.

“The giving of food and water to people who are not able to feed themselves and hydrate themselves is an act of mercy and an act of charity in a civilized society. To deny access to food and water is indeed ‘euthanasia by omission,’” Land said, referencing the opinion of the late Pope John Paul II. Land said the practice of depriving PVS patients of nutrition and hydration should be condemned by all civilized societies.

“Just a reminder: When Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed, it took her about 13 days to die of dehydration, which is approximately how long it would take anyone reading these remarks to die if they were not in critical medical condition. In other words, Terri Schiavo was nowhere near death. Her death was not imminent from any medical complication. It took her as long to die as it would take any normal human being who was denied hydration,” Land said.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, researchers in the recent study at the University of Cambridge “noticed activity in the language-processing regions” of the patient’s brain “when words were spoken to her, specifically with sentences containing ambiguous words such as ‘creek/creak.’”

“Investigating further, the authors asked the patient to imagine herself playing tennis or visiting all of the rooms in her house. Again, her brain responses closely matched those of healthy volunteers and perhaps show a deliberate effort to follow instructions,” the AAAS news report said.

While the authors of the study warn against drawing conclusions about all PVS patients from their study of a single patient, they agree that the patient’s responses could force the use of new techniques to measure the brain activity of patients thought to have irreversible brain damage. Study author Adrian M. Owen, who led the Cambridge team of neurologists that reported the findings, told the New York Times the conclusions were “stunning.”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Dieter's Prayer

A couple of weeks ago I got a little bad news as the result of major physical exam. The doctor says something like my bad cholesterol is good and my good is bad. I don’t fully understand it all but he did explain that I should have it checked again in 3 months to see if loosing 20 pounds and adding more exercise to my daily regimen would help my numbers. If not, he says that I will need to start taking medication for it. The doctor had me thinking about the need to shed some of these extra pounds when I learned of a friendly weight loss competition at my workplace. It is now reported that fifteen of us have paid $10.00 each with the biggest loser taking the pot on October 31. It’s been almost a week since we started and I have a pretty good start with -5.

I noticed a cute little poem in Paul Heil’s The Gospel Greats newsletter a few days ago titled, “A Dieter’s Prayer. "

A Dieter’s Prayer

Lord, grant me the strength that I may not fall
Into the clutches of cholesterol.
At polyunsaturates, I'll never mutter,
For the road to Hell is paved with butter.
And cake is cursed and cream is awful
And Satan is hiding in every waffle.
Beelzebub is a chocolate drop
And Lucifer is a lollipop.
Teach me the evils of hollandaise,
Of pasta and globs of mayonnaise.
And crisp fried chicken from the South -- Lord, if you love me, shut my mouth.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pioneer Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury; A Builder of America

300,000 miles on horseback, from the Atlantic to the Appalachians, from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, for forty-five years, he spread the gospel. This was Francis Asbury, Methodist Circuit riding preacher who was born this day, August 20, 1745. When the Revolution started, he refused to return to England: "I can by no means agree to leave such a field for gathering souls to Christ as we have in America."

He befriended Richard Bassett, a signer of the Constitution, who converted, freed his slaves and paid them as hired labor. Francis Asbury dedicated the first African Methodist Episcopal Church and met personally with George Washington, congratulating him on his election. By the time he died, the Methodist Church in America had grown from 300 members to over 200,000. Unveiling the Equestrian Statue of Francis Asbury in Washington, D.C., 1924, President Calvin Coolidge stated: "Our government rests upon religion It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty... This circuit rider spent his life making stronger the foundation on which our government rests...Francis Asbury is entitled to rank as one of the builders of our nation."

The picture above is a statue of Francis Asbury at 16th and Mount Pleasant streets NW. Many black churches, including the one shown at left, at 11th and K streets NW, bear the early evangelist's name.

Here is an article on Bishop Asbury that appeared in the Washington Post earlier this year entitled A Preacher's Journeys Over the Color Line.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

100 Things I’ve Learned the Hard Way as a Senior Pastor

Jim Jackson has written 100 Things I've Learned the Hard Way as a Senior Pastor That I've Never Read in a Book. Pastors who read this list will nod in agreement. Church members will understand their pastor better.

1. Thirty percent of a senior pastor’s job is conflict resolution; unfortunately healthy arbitration does not guarantee a healthy response.
2. The conventional wisdom is usually wrong.
3. Authority diminishes with use; influence increases with use.
4. Choose your battles carefully; ask yourself, “Is this issue central to my vision?”
5. Sheep bite.
6. Whatever goodwill and favor you have earned with people through acts of service, usually evaporates immediately when you cross them on something they consider important.
7. The results of an act of ministry often have nothing to do with the expenditure of time; you can spend an enormous amount of time in ministry that bears no fruit, and then do or say something in passing that changes someone’s life.
8. “The way things are” is a human invention; if you can vision it differently, it is re inventable.
9. People often fail in ministry because they never learn to say the four “magic” words: “I need your help.”
10. You cannot do ministry in isolation; you need a support system made up of people you trust and to whom you are willing to be accountable; if you get singled out you get picked off.
11. Senior pastors who raise the budget seldom get run off.
12. Hire a “world-class” team of equippers as your staff: you cannot hire enough doers to get the job done; hire people, don’t fill positions; the best people usually cost you the most money; never hire people to help them out; trust your gut in the hiring process. Spiritual integrity #1 and then look for equippers.
13. Write a staff mission, vision and core values statement and have everyone who joins the staff sign them with their blood.
14. Communicate to your staff that it is okay to fail, but it is not all right to punch holes in the boat below the water line.
15. Manage your staff on an ongoing basis by getting them to write three growth goals for each quarter; no one can manage a staff through annual goals.
16. Senior pastors need to understand the trends in business management and leadership development.
17. Computer programs are a two-edged sword: they can save you time, but they can also restrict your creativity and keep you from having a personal encounter with God’s Word.
18. Develop a Kingdom mentality; the pastor down the street is not your competitor; this pastor is your brother/sister and deserves your prayers, encouragement, and collaboration.
19. Ministry is not finding needs and filling them; it is helping people to identify their spiritual gifts and deploying them in ministries that are fulfilling.
20. Prayer ministry is the most vital program priority in every church.
21. The reason some churches are small is because they are made up of members who have a terminal disease called “the smalls.”
22. Put your vision in concrete and your methods in sand.
23. The style of preaching that communicates today is Biblical, relevant, and confessional; it is best delivered without notes.
24. Effective pastors have a teaching ministry as well as a preaching ministry.
25. Great leaders speak their vision into existence; they shape the institutions they serve with words.
26. Resources follow vision; where there is vision there will be provision.
27. The most important things we do in ministry are often not what we do but what we do not prevent from happening.
28. Denominational senior pastors must resist the subtle danger of denominational codependency; the institution can easily become your “Messiah.”
29. The two most dangerous emotions senior pastors wrestle with are fear and cynicism.
30. Attitude and people skills have more to do with success in ministry than technical knowledge and proficiency.
31. A senior pastor must have a high tolerance for chaos.
32. One of the most important skills to develop is how to ask the right questions.
33. People are never as strong as you think they are or as weak as you think they are.
34. Leaders are risk takers; they fail often but they are resilient.
35. Be proactive rather than reactive with your calendar; put your personal and professional priorities on your calendar early; otherwise the general demands of ministry will consume all your time.
36. Make your peace with the fact that as a senior pastor you are a judge.
37. Do not spread your time evenly among your many tasks; fulfill your job description as quickly as you can and use the balance of your time in a ministry specialty.
38. Develop a priestly ministry to your people: write one-fiftieth of your congregation each week and tell them you are going to be praying for them in an upcoming week; ask them to send you their specific prayer requests.
39. Set a goal to write down 10 sermon ideas and/or illustrations every day; develop a system of keeping up with these resources; preparing sermons will then be more about culling material than finding material.
40. If you have to choose between failing your family or your congregation, always fail your congregation; your first ministry is to your family.
41. The most essential spiritual gift that a senior pastor can have is discerning of spirits.
42. The senior pastor is the most morally vulnerable person in the congregation; if Satan can destroy the pastor, evil will prevail in the congregation.
43. If you are not intentional about your devotional life, it will be sacrificed on the altar of busyness; burnout occurs when you are doing more ministry than your spiritual life can support.
44. Write your definition of success in non-bottom line ways (mission, vision, core values statements, goals for life, etc.) and look at them at least once a week.
45. You are only as sick as your secrets; pastors need a small group of people with whom they are transparent.
46. Have someone needlepoint this quote for you and put it in a prominent place in your office so you can look at it often: “There is a God--You’re not God.”
47. As you do ministry, remember: you are not the Holy Spirit; it is your job to love people, not to convict them of their sins.
48. Read two newspapers a day plus the “New York Times” on Sunday, a news magazine each week, and 50 books a year.
49. Read a contemporary book, then an old classic, then a contemporary book, etc.; the old books will keep you from following temporary fads.
50. Assimilating people is just as important as reaching people; unless the process of assimilation is effective, a large percentage of the new members will eventually become inactive.
51. Most pastors are atheists until 10:00 AM on Monday; make no major decisions before Monday noon.
52. Listening is the highest form of self-sacrifice.
53. Moral purity and spiritual integrity are more important than good theology and professional ability.
54. If you’ve got to bite the head off a frog, don’t spend a lot of time looking at it; if you’ve got to bite the head off two frogs, bite the biggest one first.
55. The deeper the commitment you call people to, the more they like it and the more faithful they will be.
56. Every senior pastor needs a mentor and needs to be a mentor.
57. As a church grows pastors must suffer the grief of giving up areas of ministry to which they feel called and competent.
58. When people think you are wonderful, subtract; when people are critical of you, add; when people praise God for blessings, multiply; when people leave the church because of you, divide.
59. Develop a strategy for teaching stewardship year-round. 4x/year
60. Never read anonymous letters. Dear friend I saw that someone is writing tacky letters and signing your name to them.
61. Remember that every leader in the Bible faced opposition, and you are not likely to please everyone either.
62. Don’t be ashamed about going to a therapist.
63. Have a family night at home with your family each week; guard it militantly.
64. Spend an hour a day, one day per quarter, and a week a year in silence and solitude; the best place to do this is at a Roman Catholic monastery or retreat center.
65. The “balanced life” is as much of a logical impossibility for a passionate pastor as it was for Jesus; think instead of the Holy Spirit as a swinging pendulum in your heart which is always pointing to an area that needs special attention; respond obediently to the Spirit’s promptings.
66. Beware of developing an entitlement mentality when you are with your more affluent members.
67. Never give up hospital visitation no matter how busy you get.
68. Every local church should be a mini-seminary, equipping laypersons in their spiritual formation.
69. When you have a major “big event” at your church it always looks like it is going to be a disaster, but at the eleventh hour things come together.
70. If you want to experience renewal in your home, go back and reread your old sermons on marriage and the family, and then practice what you preach.
71. Never attend wedding rehearsals, rehearsal dinners, or wedding receptions; stay home with your family.
72. Find a schedule pace you can hold; allow time for Sabbath, vacations, study leave, and “shadow time” (R&R after stressful events so that you can catch up with your shadow.)
73. In long-range planning, hardly anyone can see beyond three years.
74. Comparison kills contentment and relationships.
75. When someone gives you a prayer request at the door of the church, ask them to write it down.
76. Pastoring is a lot like parenting: usually the pastors who do the right things get the right results, but not always.
77. You are not the last Senior Pastor your church is going to have; you are just the temporary steward of the church to which Christ has assigned you.
78. God is not likely to do a great work through you until God does a great work in you.
79. Never accept an honorarium for providing Baptism or Holy Communion; if you accept an honorarium for some other act of service, give a portion of it to the church in honor of them and save a portion of it to do something special for your family.
80. The more the substance of His message is compromised, the more likely the church is to be rigid about worship style.
81. All the people who are looking for a church with a boring, lethargic worship service have already found it.
82. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
83. A woodcutter never wasted time by sharpening his/her ax.
84. Recognize people in public; reprimand people in private.
85. Successful people are early risers.
86. Find a way to offer Holy Communion each week.
87. It is more effective and better stewardship of your time to provide a required premarital seminar several times a year and follow it with a single session with each couple prior to marriage rather than offering them multiple premarital counseling sessions. Write a one page blind on why you want to get married. Use it for grist for homily
88. Have couples you are going to marry send you a one-page blind e-mail detailing why they want to marry their fiancé: it provides helpful information for the homily.
89. No Senior Pastor has time to be a counselor; find a therapist you trust and refer people.
90. Be a tither: you cannot teach people to do what you are not doing yourself.
91. There are three different kinds of financial stewardship and they each target different sources of money: budget monies come from people’s income; capital funds monies come from people’s wealth; and planned-giving monies come from people’s estates.
92. Never steal sheep, but always grow grass.
93. Handle your personal finances with integrity and never ask for a ministerial discount. Always ask people about finances when interviewing.
94. When you walk into a room and someone says, “Hey, preacher,” it is not a greeting; it is a warning.
95. It is hard to preach on the importance of spiritual disciplines if you are overweight.
96. If you don’t do a good job in the nomination process, you will end up with the tackle playing quarterback.
97. Have some authorized personnel committee in the church to which you are accountable to tell all the staff secrets; recruit gifted, objective, visionary people to serve on this committee; you also need an attorney with personnel experience on the committee; swear them to secrecy and listen to their advice; many minds think better than one.
98. You are ready to preach when after preparing you can pray, “Lord, if it takes making a fool of me for You to communicate Your Word, I’m willing.”
99. Never close your door or share meals alone with members of the opposite sex. Visibility and interruptibility.
100. When you move, remember this principle: the “nuts” always find you first.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Things That Matter -- A New Recording

My wife, Carol, and I made several recordings of Christian music in the 1970's and 1980's. We used these tools for ministry as we traveled around the country preaching and singing the Gospel. Believe it or not, we hear today from some who still listen and are blessed through those recordings. Remind me to tell you the "yard sale" cassette story some day. Oh, by the way, we still have some plastic albums and 8-track tapes collecting dust. I've even thought about posting them on Ebay to see if they might generate a bid.

I have recently been singing with sound tracks of excellent quality and annointing produced at Benson Sound in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Last year I made inquiry with Benson Sound about recoring with them and set a date for December of 2005. However, I ended up with a herniated disk in my neck which delayed the recording process until this year. Carol and I made the trip to Oklahoma City on June 1 and spent the next day in the studio. The result is a new recording titled, Things That Matter, which includes fourteen songs around the themes of Faith, Family and Freedom.

Here is a listing of the songs on the new project:
  1. We Will Glorify
  2. Hallowed Be Thy Name
  3. We Fall Down
  4. Medley: Heaven’s Jubilee – When We All Get To Heaven – What A Day That Will Be
  5. Medley: Above All / My Jesus I Love Thee
  6. I Never Shall Forget The Day
  7. Medley: Turn Your Eyes / There Is None Like You
  8. Let The Redeemed
  9. Medley: If I Gained The World – Jesus Is The Sweetest Name I Know
  10. Singing With The Saints
  11. He Set Me Free
  12. Strongholds Are Coming Down
  13. America Bless God
  14. Things That Matter

Our prayer is that God will use the recording to touch someone's life with His love and grace.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Immigration Issue

This is circulating the net. If it’s an accurate description of the bill, its kind of funny (in a maddening sort of way).

July 7, 2006

The Honorable Paul S. Sarbanes
309 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

Dear Senator Sarbanes,

As a native Marylander and excellent customer of the Internal RevenueService, I am writing to ask for your assistance. I have contacted theImmigration and Naturalization Service in an effort to determine theprocess for becoming an illegal alien and they referred me to you.

My reasons for wishing to change my status from U.S. Citizen to illegalalien stem from the bill which was recently passed by the Senate and forwhich you voted. If my understanding of this bill's provisions is accurate,as an illegal alien who has been in the United States for five years, whatI need to do to become a citizen is to pay a $2,000 fine and income taxesfor three of the last five years. I know a good deal when I see one and Iam anxious to get the process started before everyone figures it out.

Simply put, those of us who have been here legally have had to pay taxesevery year, so I'm excited about the prospect of avoiding two years of taxesin return for paying a $2,000 fine. Is there any way that I can apply tobe illegal retroactively? This would yield an excellent result for me andmy family because we paid heavy taxes in 2004 and 2005.

Another benefit in gaining illegal status would be that my daughter would receive preferential treatment relative to her law school applications.

If you would provide me with an outline of the process to become illegal(retroactively if possible) and copies of the necessary forms, I would bemost appreciative. Thank you for your assistance.

Your Loyal Constituent,

Pete McGlaughlin