Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cast the First Stone

In the gospels there is a story about an effort to catch Jesus off guard. Some religious people bring Jesus a woman who was caught in the “very act” of adultery. They told him the law requires us to stone this woman. Jesus did not disagree. He stooped down and began doodling in the dirt.

Recently, many Christians have been feeling overwhelmed with what they perceive to be a legal assault on their faith. Laws upholding marriage as being between one man and one woman have been challenged in court, and they have failed. Abortion continues to be legal in spite of many efforts to stop it. Christian symbols are being systematically removed from our public places. Prayer in public is discouraged at best and banned at worst. It seems the entire world is against us. We have fought hard to outlaw sin. We have inherited a Christian nation and we must fight hard to keep it that way. Jesus would want this, wouldn't he? I am not so sure.

When Jesus stood there drawing in the sand, I am sure the gentlemen around him were convinced the law made their society more holy. The law must be respected. The law must show people what is right. Recently a Federal court overruled an Oklahoma Law limiting marriage to one man one woman. Many in my circle were concerned this was a major setback for believers. Others felt they were being pressured to keep their Christian views to themselves. They felt their religious faith was unwelcome and their views scorned.

So, what is a Christian to do? The answer for many believers is more signatures on a petition, more organization for elections, more courage to make the law reflect our beliefs, less tolerance of those who disagree. At some point this entire focus has become troubling to me. Many who proclaim trust in the gospel believe our law makes us a Christian nation. It appears we have forgotten that the law is horribly ineffective at changing the hearts and minds of men. We have forgotten that our battle is not to change laws or keep laws or to make laws. Our battle is to introduce people to the Savior. It is he who has the power to change the hearts and minds of men. Meanwhile Jesus writes, "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it." Then Jesus says, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's tough to be a girl

During my first hour a young man was reading a note instead of paying attention to my instructions. His grade in my class was pretty bad, so I decided to quietly take the note from him. He wasn't trying to hide it, and he didn't seem upset when I took it.

I made my way back to my podium, finished giving instructions, and then read the note. The print was bold, blue and loopy with hearts and wavy scribbles draped across the empty spaces. I didn't need to read it to know what was going on, but of course I did anyway.

A girl in one of my later classes was asking this young man out. It was thoughtful and considerate and well written. I thought it was a very unawkward note for such an awkward request. I slipped the note into my book a few pages behind the section we were reading.

Later, just after I had sent in the roll for my next class, I noticed the girl that had written the note sitting at the back of the room. I held the note up to give it to her and before I could say anything, and I mean anything she brought both hands up to her eyes, began sobbing and ran out of the room to the counselor's office. I was shocked. The rest of the class said that she already dealt with that situation, and that it did not go well.

Of course, as soon as she returned I apologized and again I was impressed with the maturity with which she accepted my apology.

In my last class of the day one of my normally happy students had a distant expression on her face. Of course, I figured that she was sad from some other teen relationship gone awry, so I asked her if she was alright. She said, "Yes."

"Well, good," I said. "I just noticed that you looked like you were a long way away just now."

She said, "I was a long way away. Sometimes it is just difficult." There was a pause.

"What is difficult?" I asked.

"Mr. Gibson did you know that my mother died last Christmas?"

My shoulders slumped forward, and I sighed heavily and said, "I am so sorry. I had no idea."

"Yeah, Mr. Gibson, sometimes I can't help wondering what this next Christmas will be like."

I said nothing for quite a while. I didn't know what to say. Finally, I asked her if she lived with her dad and if they were making plans.

She said, "No, Mr. Gibson, I live with my grandparents. My dad's in prison. I do hope to see him soon though."

Here is what I want you to understand. Both of these young ladies have been great in my class room. I am proud of them both, but as I think about it I just realize how pleased I am to have students in my class who can teach me as much as I can teach them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


When I was very young my family went to "Platt National Park" for a family reunion. I remember almost nothing about the trip except that it was a day when I almost died.
Platt National Park is now called Chickasaw National Recreation area and it is a wonderful place to camp and swim in the freezing cold spring water. One swimming hole there stands out above all the rest as a destination for families to escape the summer heat...Little Niagara.
Little Niagara is close to the nature center at the park and features a 6 foot waterfall that empties into a small pool. On this particular day I remember watching as all of the older kids would creep out to the middle of the Falls, motion for their families to watch and then jump into the water. Each time someone went in they would yell when they surfaced because of the cold. I had already paddled around the shallow end of the pool, but now I was focused on the falls. To be able to defy gravity for a short period of time was something I longed to try.
I pulled my pale, almost blue, shivering body out of the shallow end and waltzed toward the falls. I had no plan. I was just getting closer to the action.
A few feet from the falls I noticed that the bank was steep and rocky, and there was a single tree growing from the steep ground close to the water. Many older people were sitting in lawn chairs a few feet from the tree. Occasionally one of the adults sitting there would applaud the teenagers as they grew more and more daring leaping into the pool with twists and somersaults and dives. I was fascinated.
Then I noticed that by the tree was a submerged shelf just under the water. That would be a great observation post. I crawled down the bank and began to re accustom myself to the cold water.
I realized that the shelf was a bit deeper in the water than I thought. Once my feet were resting on it my head was barely above the water. Looking up the bank I could barely see the adults sitting in their lawn chairs watching, smiling, talking.
Suddenly, a huge splash sent a wave of water over my head. I struggled to maintain my balance and felt my feet slip from the shelf. Now I was in over my head and I couldn't swim. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old, and I was in full panic. No one could hear me scream because I was too busy taking deep breaths on the few occasions that my head popped above the water. I looked back up the banks and there were two men leaning back in their chairs looking back at me. I went under again. I bobbed back up. They were still there, smiling at me. I tried to say help, but they just smiled.
I went under again. My arms and feet were in full flail. I was unable to coordinate my movements to make any progress. Finally, the surface and another breath. I went under again. I bobbed back up with my body bouncing from the wild movements of my limbs. I went under one more time and could barely see the smiling faces of the men through the cool clear water. They were still staring at me. I was too busy moving and bobbing to think anything dreadful. I was just trying to breathe, but I do remember a hot angry feeling warming me as I watched their apathetic smiles. I was sinking and flailing and sinking. Then, miraculously to me, one of my feet struck the shelf. I was able to gain just enough traction to get my hands close enough to the bank to find an exposed root of that tree. I pulled and brought my face out of the water long enough to gasp and breathe. I looked up. The men were still there laughing now instead of smiling.
At that time time I had no idea what to do. I had no words to share with the men who enjoyed my show so thoroughly. I was anxious to get away from the falls. I wanted to be away from the laughing and smiling. As I think back I think I know what would have happened if I would have been as knowledgeable as I am now. I wouldn't have said anything, but I think I have a few gestures that I would have shared with them.
I realized recently that there was something very spiritual about that little event. If you would have seen that little show for yourself many years ago you would have probably thought about how nicely I controlled myself in a stressful situation. You may have thought that I was embarrassed and you may have even felt sorry for me, but you would have missed the point.
I was angry and I would have if I could have. I think many times we think that when we are young we are innocent, that we don't know enough to make a mess of things, but I really believe that this is a wrong perspective. when we are young we aren't innocent. We still have the feelings and attitudes that can make us despicable as adults. Just because we are young does not mean that we are innocent. It just means that we are unarmed.

A Ride?

Last Friday I parked my motorcycle in front of the new performing arts center at Shawnee High School and prepared to enter the building for my first meetings of the new school year. As I entered the building I thought about how different my expectations were from a year ago. Last year I was coming back from one of the most difficult years of my life. I was convinced I had lost it as a teacher, and I was not sure if I wanted to teach anymore. I lacked confidence and was not sure that I had what it takes to be effective with today's middle schoolers. I did know that I did not want to be a terrible teacher.

So, with a terrible year behind me, I worked hard, real hard. I did everything I could to teach well, to win hearts and minds and to make a lasting impact on the lives of my students. I thought I had made a lot of progress toward becoming the effective teacher that I felt like I once was. While spending my summer at Falls Creek as the recreation director I would occasionally see one of my students. In fact, I actually looked forward to seeing them and finding out how their summer was going.

So it was with a glad heart that I walked into the beginning of my new school year. When I got through the doors I saw a colleague of mine from the 7th grade team. I was a bit surprised to see her because I was almost 20 minutes early. When she saw me she walked over to me and said, "I saw some of our students the other day and they had some wonderful things to say about you. You may even be their hero!"

In spite of my desire to yell, "TELL ME WHAT THEY SAID!!!" I played it off with an understated, "Oh, really?" I thought Yesss! Someone is going to say that I was a great teacher because I worked hard to make great lessons that inspired my students to aspire to greatness. Maybe they would say that they learned a lot, or that they felt like they understood geography a bit better. Any of those would things help to confirm that my teaching career was headed in the right direction.

My colleague smiled at me and said, "Yes Trent, I ran into several of your students and they said that you were great because when you saw them at Falls Creek this summer you gave them a ride on your golf cart."

Really?!? Great because of a golf cart ride? I was disappointed, but I was careful not let it show. I smiled at my fellow teacher and said, "Yip, they do love those golf carts." Then I began developing a new plan to make this year even better than any that had come before. I felt like it was foolproof. It might even get me teacher of the year sometime... All I need is a golf cart that fits in my classroom.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Air Freshener

Last week I was listening to Car Talk on NPR. Car Talk is a call in show where people try to get advice on how to fix their car. Sometimes people call for some basic automotive advice as did the lady that is the subject of this post.

This lady was from the Midwest and was planning on taking her family on a roadtrip to the West. No real destinations were mentioned, but I assumed that she was talking about the Grand Canyon or some other incredible natural monument in the West. She had two real issues; the first was that five people were making the trip, the second was that she had two vehicles to choose from.

The first vehicle was a late model sedan that though low in miles was probably going to be too crowded for such a long trip with so many people. The second vehicle was a high miles mini-van which she felt would be more comfortable but might have some maintenance issues. The hosts of the show immediately asked her, "What kind of maintenance issues?" to which she responded, "well, the tires are bald, the brakes pull a bit to the left, it uses oil, it has a high speed shimmy, the windshield is cracked, the transmission slips occasionally, and it has a bit of an odd smell."

The hosts then asked, "So, what maintenance have you done on it lately?" She said, "I changed the air freshener last week."

I almost fell out of my car. I immediately thought, "what an insanely stupid person." It was not too long though before God began a review of the maintenance record of my "spiritual engine." The list persisted with items like, easily angered, selfish, boastful, uncaring, unmerciful, blaming, prideful, lustful, lazy, rude... and what have you done about it? I searched and examined, thought and pondered, but came away with the realization that I had done very little maintenance of my spiritual life, so I blurted out loud, "I read my Bible once in a while!" As soon as I said it I felt insanely stupid.

I thought, I will fix it. I will make my quiet time consistent. I will pray constantly. I will love the poor. I will forgive. I will quit getting angry. I will... and at that exact moment I heard the hosts of the show say, "Take the sedan."

I realized that the same was true for me. I was never going to salvage me enough to make the trip. My hope cannot be in spiritual maintenance, instead it must be in a new spiritual vehicle. Mine simply will not do. Now I am not saying that spiritual maintenance is a bad thing or that it is not worth it. No, not at all. Spiritual discipline is wonderful but we must understand where it falls short. It in and of itself does not make me new. Jesus makes me new, and thankfully he takes trade ins.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Someone recently told me about a sermon where the preacher said that anyone who drinks only does it to get drunk because the stuff tastes so bad that there is no other reason to drink it. I suppose that the idea was to get people to lay off alcohol because tastes bad.

Well, I got to thinkin'. It seems to me that many believers today are rebelling against denominational stances against alcohol because they have found that the prohibition against it does not jive with conviction in the veracity of scripture. But, this has left many in an uncomfortable position of having to justify their own abstinence. This, to me, is sad.

Abstinence for a believer does not have to do with how something tastes, or how healthy it is, or its color, or even how other people feel about it. For a believer the standard is Jesus. Whether you drink or not, whether you abstain or not it is for the glory of the Lord. Taste, What other people do or the current phase of the moon does not matter.

I hope for myself that I will be able to quit saving face with man to be obedient to God.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Within You

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within you. I believe that but I don't always get it. You know what I mean?

Well, on Thursday we got 3 Netflix movies in the mail. They were Patriot Games with Harrison Ford which is a great fun movie to watch, Oh Brother Where Art Thou which is also a fun movie and Pulp Fiction, which was a surprise since no one remembered putting it in our cue. Now I have always heard Pulp Fiction was a very rough, but very good movie. To be honest I really didn't even know what it was about, so with an understanding of its rating we made arrangements with Sawyer to do something else while Sherry and I watched it.

It was very rough. The language was intense and extreme. The violence was over the top. Drug and alcohol was everywhere, but for some reason I kept watching. I can't ever recommend the movie to anyone because of that, but there was one thing in particular that made me very glad I watched it.

In the movie Vincent and Jules are two hit men who argue constantly, but they are apparently quite good at there job. In one of the first scenes these two are wearing matching black suits on their way to an apartment to work a job. When it seems like they are done, the scene cuts to them entering the establishment of their boss wearing gym shorts and t-shirts. Later in the movie the job in the apartment is revisited and completed. The job wasn't really over in the first scene. What really happened is that a guy leaped out of a room with a monstrously large hand gun and started firing at the two hit men from point blank range. The bullets never hit them. Behind them on the wall were bullet holes that made it appear that at least one or two bullets must have passed through their intended victims without damaging them at all.

Here is the part that I found intriguing. Vincent and Jules began arguing again, except this time it was about why they were spared. Vincent said it was just random luck, but Jules said that it was a miracle. Both experienced the exact same thing, but both interpreted the event differently. One, Vincent, maybe because his luck ran out was killed doing his next job. The other, Jules, performed an incredible act of mercy because he believed God had intervened in his life. I am not saying that Pulp Fiction was preaching some kind of sermon, but I do think that it illustrates a point well.

In this one vignette about disgusting gangsters, one experiences the Kingdom of God and is transformed. The other, who stands at exactly the same point, who is just as disgusting, who survives the very same shooting does not experience the Kingdom of God, and he is not transformed.

So here is what it comes to; no matter how much I beg, borrow, or steal, no matter how much I manipulate, cajole, or intimidate, I will never be able to make anyone experience the Kingdom of God. By the same token I will never be able to love, hope or believe someone into the Kingdom of God either. As uncomfortable as it truly is, the Kingdom of God really is inside of us, out of reach of anyone except ourselves and the Lord, or it isn't.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Today I overheard the following conversation; "Have you ever seen any of the Mad Max movies?"
"No, I haven't, and when I get to heaven I will be able to tell Jesus that I have never seen them."
"Well, Jesus will say you missed a good movie."