The Invasion

This Sunday, churches across North America and the world will be invaded by a special breed of person.  They grace us with their presence every Christmas and Easter and are thus called, Chreasters or CEOs (Christmas Easter and Other). To be honest with you, when in my first few years of ministry, I was a little agitated with them. How dare they come only once or twice a year?  I wanted to stand up in church and scream in Christ-like righteous anger, “Where in the world have you been all year?”  But then I began looking for them every holiday.  It wasn’t long until I appreciated them and now I even plan for them.  There are many reasons I love Easter, and few more important than it brings many people who only hear the Gospel once or twice a year into your church.  Are you ready for them?  Are you expecting them and wanting them to come?  Here are a couple of reminders to pastors and churches.  Be on point

Pastors, it’s ok to consider your guests as you plan your sermon.  This is probably not the Sunday to bring out that hour-long sermon you’ve been longing to preach to your seminary professor to prove to him how smart you are.  Don’t worry; your wife knows your not as smart as you think you are.  Be gospel-rich, theologically sound and point your audience to the hope of our risen Lord.  Remember, the gospel is powerful enough on its own.  Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t create on Easter Sunday what you are unable or unwilling to create on Labor Day Sunday.  Don’t create a show you put on but communicate so the Spirit will put Himself in. By all means, be on point this Sunday; make sure Jesus is your point.  Preach Jesus.

Regular attendees, as you arrive, if you are able, park a little farther away.  Wear your Fitbit that morning to assure you receive credit for your steps.  Try and sit closer to the front this week. If you are a Baptist, I know that goes against all holy and godly habits, but don’t make your guest walk down the aisle.  Remember, there is no assigned seating at church.  If all goes well on Sunday, someone will be seated in your seat.  That is gloriously good news.  By all means, go out of your way to talk to people you don’t know. However, if you see someone new, don’t say, “Wow, it must be Easter. I haven’t seen you in a year.”  Also, don’t say to a person, “Are you new here?.” There’s a chance they’ve been coming to the church for weeks and they are only new to you.   It’s probably not in the interest of retaining your guest to say, “What in the world are you doing here? This is the last place I expected to see you.”  Instead, when you see someone new this weekend or someone you haven’t seen since last Easter, simply say, “It sure is good to have you in church today.”  It’s simple, direct and effective.  Mingle. Be kind.  Be joyful.

Finally, sing this Sunday.  Let your guests see and hear the joy of your salvation.  You will be singing about our risen Lord, Jesus.  Don’t sing with a frown on your face. Smile.  Let your guests see you are really happy to be in church and feel remarkably blessed to be a child of God.  There should be a joy in your church this Sunday that will be able to be felt by everyone there.  I like to remind people that Jesus will still be alive next Sunday too.  It might be appropriate to have some joy next Sunday as well, just a thought.

To our guests: Churches welcome you. We are looking forward to having you with us.  Come early, grab a cup of coffee and fellowship with us. We are genuinely glad you are here. Don’t worry about anything, simply be our guests.  We have been expecting you and want you to know God loves you passionately, and we are excited to have you worship with us.  If the service raises any questions in your mind, please contact the church. I know the pastor would love to meet with you and discuss your questions. In the future, if we can ever be of service to you, please let us know.

Have a great Easter Sunday.  My prayer for all churches is the Holy Spirit will prepare you well, use you greatly and exalt Jesus deeply.  Welcome your guests, preach Jesus, and all will be fine. Wake up on Monday and get ready to do it all again.  Easter may come once a year, but we get an opportunity to welcome guests every Sunday.  Be ready.  If you aren’t careful, you may realize Easter Sunday is the way it’s supposed to be every Sunday.  He is Risen!

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Preparing for Easter

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We prepare ourselves for so many things.  Every important day or event we spend invaluable time making sure everything is perfect and everything is ready.  My daughter will be celebrating her first anniversary on June 2nd.  I will never forget the time and effort it took to make sure her Wedding Day was perfect and an event that would leave an indelible mark in all of our lives.  We prepare and plan for what is important to us.  Many parents are sending their High School children to prom during this time of year.  Do you plan and prepare for prom? Of course, you do.  Why?  Because it’s an important day and you want to make sure your children are ready to get the very most out of the special evening.  You prepare and plan for what’s important to you.

How about Easter?  Is Easter important enough for you to prepare and plan for?  Now, I’m not asking about Easter lunch.  I know you are planning and preparing for Easter Lunch.  In our home, we’ve already created a menu and invited family and friends to join us.  I’m talking about Easter.  How will you prepare your heart and soul for Easter Sunday?  We want to sound increasingly holy and say it’s just another Sunday.  However, it’s not.  It is a special day and a very holy day.  So, if Easter is important will you plan and prepare for it?  Let me offer you a couple of suggestions:

  1. Read – If you have time to only read one book during Easter week, read the Bible. Spend time daily in the Gospels. Pour the Gospels over your heart and soul this week. Linger in the last few days of Jesus’ earthly life.  I would recommend the following: Matthew 21:1-27:65; Mark 11:12-15:47; Luke 19:28-23:56; John 12:1-19:42 – Reflect upon the remarkable story of our Lord’s last week on this earth.  Be amazed, be broken, be humbled, be shocked, be grateful as you read.  Realize He could have traveled anywhere to stay away from the humiliation and shame of the cross. Instead, He willingly and lovingly walks the road to the cross.  Read the story this Easter season with fresh eyes.  Read them again for the first time.
    1. If you have time, add other books too. There are many great titles. James M. Boice and Philip Ryken have a great little book on the trial of Jesus that always blesses my heart. It’s called, “Jesus on Trial.” There are so many great titles. I still remember reading Max Lucado’s “Six House One Friday.” It was such a blessing.  Last year, Heidi and I read, “The Final Days of Jesus” by Andreas Kostenberger and Justin Taylor. It blessed my heart so much I’ve included it as my April book in my Pastor’s Book Club. I’m excited to read it again.
  2. Love Others – You should always love people, but Easter week is a wonderful time to go above and beyond. Have you ever wondered why Christians enjoy the Christmas season so much?  It’s because we are so focused on others.  For 25 days, we are going out of our way to bless others.  We give others our time, our money, many gifts, and we are generally kinder and more loving.  We can do that for Easter too. Go out of your way this week to bless others.  Buy someone’s lunch this week. Pay for someone’s coffee as you drive-thru Starbucks.  Invite them to Easter Worship.  People are much more likely to attend church on Easter than any other day.  Invite them.  Go out of your way to show others Christ’s love as He showed His love for us Easter week nearly 2000 years ago. If you are attending FSBC, come volunteer at our Easter Outreach on Saturday.
  3. Good Friday – Press deeply into Jesus on Good Friday. Wake up earlier than usual.  As you begin the day, imagine what this day must have been like for our Lord. He has already cried out to the Father to have the cup removed and He heard the Father say, “No.”  As you wake early, He is standing before Pilate receiving his death sentence that you and I deserve, not the spotless lamb of God.  Don’t walk through Good Friday hurriedly and unreflectively.  Attend a Good Friday service.  Our service begins at 6:00 pm.  It is a very somber and reflective service.  I’ll be examining on 2 Corinthians 2:21 “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  He took my sin to the cross and withstood God’s wrath – He became what I am, a sinner so I can become what He is, righteous.  Praise be to God.
  4. Sermon Preparation – What in the world do I mean? I know most of you will not be preparing a sermon.  However, I want to encourage you to prepare your heart to receive the sermon and your ears to hear the Word of the Lord.  If you don’t know what the next sermon will be, ask your pastor.  Most pastors have planned weeks in advance.  This is especially important on Easter.  At First Southern Baptist Church, we will be looking at John 11. Our hope is to uncover how we must react when God disappoints us.  As you read John 11, imagine how Mary and Martha felt when Jesus failed to react as they knew He could have saved their brother Lazarus.  When God disappoints, how do we respond? Read the passage. Come ready to listen and learn.
  5. Easter Morning – before coming to church, spend time in the Gospels. Reflect what it must have been like that first Easter morning. The tomb was empty; Jesus is alive.  How would you have felt walking in disappointment to the tomb?  You knew he was dead. God’s reality does not always align with your knowledge. And by all means, attend church.  Corporately celebrate our risen Lord.

Don’t rush Easter week. Slow down.  Immerse yourself in Scripture and the remarkable story of Easter.  Invest in the lives of others.  Impact someone else with the hope of the Gospel.  Don’t let this be just another week in your year.  Make it special.  Make it holy. Make it meaningful. If you work on these things during Passion Week, you will probably find yourself carrying this out next week too. In no time at all, they will become holy habits of spiritual transformation.  You plan and prepare for what is important to you.  If Easter is important to you, take time this week to plan and prepare for a very special weekend.  Happy Easter. He is Risen.

40 Days (003)

Today marks the first day of our 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting.  I am so excited to focus our hearts and minds upon the radiance and beauty of Jesus.  One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, has written a beautiful prayer:

“God, I have tasted Thy goodness and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed at my lack of desire; I want to want Thee, I long to be filled with longing.  I thirst to be made more thirsty.  Show me thy glory.  Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. In Jesus name, Amen.”

As you begin this magnificent journey of knowing Christ more, Tozer’s prayer is my prayer for you and me.  I have no greater desire than to see the people of FSBC thirstier for Jesus.  I pray God will have favor upon us and show us His glory. Take time to walk this 40-day journey with me.  If you did not pick up a 40 Day Guide on Sunday, remember, you can find it on our website at fsbcsalina.com.

One of my favorite prayer passages is found in Luke 11.  As you begin this 40-Day journey with me, take a moment to look at Luke 11:5-13.  In April of 2017, I asked the church to pray an audacious prayer.  We began to pray, asking God to help us pay off the remaining debt on our building by the end of 2018.  At the time, it was well over $200,000.  In 2018, we paid off over $170,000 which brought our debt load to zero.  As we approach Easter, ask God what our next audacious prayer will be.  A church should always be doing something that stretches them, something that scares them, something they genuinely believe could not be done unless God intervened.  That is an audacious prayer.  I like verse 8 of Luke 11 in the 2011 NIV: “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” Here’s the lesson: If a tired and stubborn neighbor is willing to meet his friend’s need, how much more is our loving heavenly Father willing to meet the needs of his children? Therefore, pray and don’t give up!

 

What are the traits of praying with shameless audacity?

 

  1. Be Bold – Ask of God great things. Remember, He is able “to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Eph 3:20).  How dare we not ask God to do great and mighty things for His glory. What are we doing that only God could accomplish?  What should we attempt that will bring great glory to God?
  2. Be Expectant – When you pray, do you pray with doubt or in great faith? When you pray, expect God to answer. Pray as if you believe He can answer you. Pray as if you believe He cares enough about you to answer and pray as if He is wise enough to give you what you need. Throughout the Luke 11 text, it says things like, “the door will be opened,” and “everyone who asks receives…”  God does answer prayer.  Expect Him to answer.  Do we pray so little because we expect so little?
  3. Be Persistent – Why do you give up so easily in prayer? The text says to ask, seek and knock. It has the idea of keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. Don’t give up.
  4. Be Filled – Notice, Jesus talks about His Father giving the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled praying is the key in audacious prayer.  Why are our prayers so feeble?  Could it be that we do all the talking in our prayers? Romans 8 reminds us when we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us (See Romans 8:26-27).  Could it be we never pray with Spirit-filled power because we always know what to pray for and never stop talking in prayer? One of the great aspects of an audacious prayer is listening.  Stop talking. Admit you don’t know the heart of God as you desire.  Beg the Spirit to pray for you.

For many Christians, our prayers are too small, too few, and too selfish.  During these forty days, begin again to pray audacious prayers.  Seek the face of God.  Ask Him during this time what our next audacious prayer should be.  The audacious prayer will stretch FSBC.  It will make us uncomfortable, make us feel overwhelmed and weak. But the audacious prayer will also bring much glory to God. Pray as if we believe the God of the universe is ready to answer our prayer for His glory and the good of others.

Response to the Chronicle Report

My Response

On Sunday, Southern Baptists were rocked to the core as they read the Houston Chronicle and learned about the report of over 700 individuals being sexually abused within the supposed safety of Southern Baptist Churches.  As Baptists read the article and the news spread around social media, we were grieved, angered and mourned those who had been victimized but such evil people.  I wept as I read the reports of sexual abuse. We are well beyond the point of asking, “How can people do this?” and to the reality, that evil men and women are hurting our children, and adults,  in untold evil and horrific ways within the supposed safety of our church walls.  As a Convention, we can not stand idly by.  This report must grieve us, but we also must go beyond feeling to action. Sexual abuse cannot be allowed to continue in any fashion within the ministry of the local church.  As a church, I am pleased to say First Southern Baptist of Salina has already taken many steps to assure our children can learn, play and worship in a safe environment.

FSBC, Salina, has taken a proactive approach to church safety.  For many years the church has vetted potential child workers through a deep screening process.  If you want to work with children, you must complete the screening. There are no exceptions. Last year we even expanded the net wider to include screening everyone who would like to be a part of any ministry in our church. If you want to volunteer at the Coffee Bar, we ask you to be screened.   A couple of years ago we established a “Safe Church” team whose primary job is to evaluate and implement safe church strategies continually.    We also have cameras strategically placed around the church.  We have a strong safety protocol within our church, including a two-adult rule in our rooms. We try extremely hard to make sure an adult alone in the room with a minor.  If they are for some reason, we have a mandatory “door open” policy.  Finally, we have a zero tolerance for sexual sin.  If there is an accusation of sexual abuse in our church, rather staff or volunteer, we immediately contact the police, remove the person from serving, and allow the issue to be taken through the proper external and legal investigation. We treat all sexual abuse as a criminal act and allow the authorities to get to the truth.  At First Southern Baptist, Salina, we believe very strongly in the safety and well-being of our children (birth – 18 years of age) and adults, of any age,  and have taken many steps to create a safe environment. We hope to make our environment extremely difficult for a sexual predator to commit these acts of evil while on our campus.

For many years, churches across America have covered up sexual abuse.  We must stop this immediately.  God in His mercy, has exposed the sin.  Now exposed, we can deal with sin.  As a Convention, we must take proper actions to assure sexual abuse is eradicated in all churches everywhere. As a Baptist, I’m so sorry for those who were abused and hurt through the evil of these people. It angers me and grieves me.  Thankfully, sin has been exposed.  Pastors, please use this exposure of sin as a catalyst to act.  Evaluate your safety plan.  If you need help or ideas, please let me know. Our church would be more than happy to help you and your church. We don’t live in fear, but we do implement and plan for the good of others and the glory of God.  Parents, you and your children are as safe as possible at First Southern Baptist Church, Salina.  We will continue to strive to make FSBC, Salina,  a safe church.  If you have questions, please contact me.  I would always welcome questions and suggestions on how we can make our church even safer. Finally, please remember, people fail but God never fails.

One of the great Southern Baptist voices is Russell Moore.  I trust him and have often found he and I think along the same lines about many issues.  He is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Here is his response.  Russell Moore

Here is the original article: Houston Chronicle 

Miracle on Magnolia

mortgage burning serviceLuke 11:8 “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”

We still serve a miracle working God.  On May 21, 2017, I stood before the church challenging them to pray a prayer with “shameless audacity.”  I thought I should give them an example of a shameless audacious prayer, so I said, “Let’s pray to have the building paid off by the end of 2018.”  I had just looked to see where our building fund was at the time.  We owed $242,103.18.  Could the church honestly pay off nearly a quarter million dollars in less than two years?  There was no way.  I know since 2007, the church had never paid off that much of the debt in 20 months.  Undaunted, I and others began to pray daily with shameless audacity for God to pay off the building debt by the end of 2018. I knew what was impossible for man was possible for God.

By July, God offered us an opportunity to refinance our loan through the Foundation of the Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.  Refinancing immediately took a year off of our five remaining years, thus saving us thousands of dollars.  God began working quickly in this prayer. At the start of 2018, we owed $178,209.22.  I was not too confident but knew if we focused on it we would pay off more in 2018 than we did in 2017. Many faithful prayer warriors persevered in praying with shameless audacity.  Throughout 2018, we saw God do amazing things through His people.  There were many times I simply stood back and laughed.  We continued to see the total shrinking month to month.  You could feel the excitement in our church when we were below $100,000. God was at work.

We continued to pray with shameless audacity.  In our December business meeting, we voted to take General Offering funds at the end of the year to make up any difference.  Oh my goodness, God is going to do this, I thought.   However, deep in my heart, I wanted us to make the final loan payment without having to take any general funds. On December 1, 2018, our balance was $44,369,03.  Could God do this through our church?   We also set a challenging Lottie Moon Christmas Goal of $10,000 (For more about Lottie Moon).  I had told people if they could only give to one or the other, always choose to give to missions.

God worked a miracle through His people.  His people gave over $45,000 to the Building Fund, over $10,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and over $40,000 to our General Fund. I don’t think there are many churches our size that could accomplish that feat on their own.  Only God could do accomplish this.   We serve a gloriously great God.  In two years, God paid off $266,091.21 through our people.  He alone deserves all the credit. This proves there is nothing God can not do through his people when they are obedient to His call.  

As of January 2, our Building Loan with the Foundation is paid in full. We must now ask, “What’s next?’  Why would God answer such a shameless audacious prayer?  Being debt-free will free up countless resources to help our church have a global gospel impact.  I can’t wait to see what God will do during our next chapter.  Our purpose is not to pay off a building, our purpose as a church is to “Know Christ and Make Him Known.”  God is about to do exceedingly abundantly more than we can imagine.  And like I often tell our church, “I can imagine a lot.”

Join us this Sunday, January 13, 2019, as we celebrate and have a Mortgage Burning Service.  I know many people have faithfully been giving over these 15 years.  Join our celebration. We will begin at 10:30 am.  Stay for our barbecue luncheon after our service.

We are done, but we are not finished.  We have only just begun.  We have freed up thousands of dollars per year for Kingdom growth and gospel impact.  God will do great things.

Many people say God is no longer in the business of doing miracles.  As for me, I’ll choose to disagree with you.  First Southern Baptist Church is a testimony that God is still in the business of making miracles happen. To God be the glory from whom all blessings flow.

Silence in Prayer

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Have you ever noticed how we have an aversion to silence?  We sit trying to meditate and pray. But the silence of the moment quickly invades our space in a way that overwhelms our soul.  Immediately we reach for the nearest source of noise and turn it on and turn it up so we can cancel out and overcome the silence.  Admit it, we hate silence.  It is such an enemy to us we keep the TV on in the background and worry if we think our children are “too quiet.”  We are accustomed to noise and conditioned to clamor for any sound at all.  We can’t stand silence.

I have found this to be especially true in prayer.  Most of us find it hard to keep silent in prayer.  We immediately jump into our prayer with request after request.  Instead, slow down and add these two practices to your prayer life and you will pray with power and confidence.

The first practice is silence.  We are commanded to pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).  Could it be mos

t of us pray so little in the Spirit because we pray too much with our own words, our own strength and never give the Spirit an opportunity to pray? In Romans, Paul tells us “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes” (Romans 8:26).  What would happen if we began praying in silence while begging the Spirit to intercede for us?  Ask Him to pray the will of the Father. After you ask, sit in meditative silence. Could this be part of what the Psalmist meant in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know I am God?”  I think one of the keys to praying in the Spirit is silence before God and allowing the Spirit to pray.

Before we proceed, consider two important things:

  1. We don’t always know the will of God. Case in point. A missionary is going to the 10/40 corridor (https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window) to be a witness for God.  What is the Father’s will?  What if it’s martyrdom?  We always pray for safety for our missionaries (I do too).  How often do you see the early church pray for safety?  I’m sure they did, but their focus was boldness to speak the Gospel fervently and with great power.  As you pray for missionaries, begin with silence.  Ask God’s Spirit to intercede.  Then pray for all the “normal” things we pray.  But give time for the Spirit to intercede.
  2. The Spirit always knows the Father’s will. Who would you rather have interceded for you? A person who could only know the will of the Father partially, or fully?

Let’s continue.  Silence is not only needed in prayer; it allows you to implement the second strategy for powerful prayer: Listening.  Richard Foster has stated well, “Though silence sometimes involves the absence of speech, it always involves the act of listening” (Celebration of Discipline page 86). How can you hear a Word from God much less understand Him if you are always talking during prayer?  Jesus warns us not to use too many words in prayer (Matthew 6:7).  One of the greatest virtues in prayer is listening in silence.

Two practices to implement in the closet of your prayer life are the art of silence and listening.  To implement these practices, you will have to practice the discipline of solitude.  You must be willing to be alone.  When you are away from the everyday distractions and as you start your time of prayer and fellowship with the Father, begin on your knees in silence.  Give the Spirit of God a chance to pray and then listen. You will know when it is time for you to speak.  It is then when you begin to pray over your list with confidence that God hears your prayers and He can meet every request.

Get off alone; turn off Facebook and the TV.  Be quiet, listen, and then pray.

 

 

Monday Night Football

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My dad died on August 14th of this year.  There’s not a day I don’t think about him and miss him in some way. I have found it interesting the things that bring waves of grief.  It could be something as simple as reading a commentary he gave me or listening to an old phone message.  Today it’s Monday Night Football.

One of my early memories of my relationship with dad and football surrounds a Monday Night Football game many years ago. It had to be in the late 70s. We were big Houston Oilers football fans.  If my memory serves me correctly, Houston was playing the Miami Dolphins.  I had to go to bed with the game in the balance. I couldn’t believe I had to go to bed and I’m sure I threw a fit or two trying to stay up past my bedtime.  But to no avail. I had to go to bed and miss what I was sure to be a great game.  As it turns out, it was a classic game.  During the second half, my dad came into my room to wake me up and watch the rest of the game.  Earl Campbell had a career game and dad wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the epic comeback and win. I’m sure it would have to be one of the most famous MNF games ever, and I got to see the ending with my dad.  It was a good day. It’s a great memory.

Tonight the Denver Broncos play the Kansas City Chiefs.  Most of the time I would have called dad to see what he thought about the game.  We would both talk about how good Mahomes looks and would wonder together if Von Miller could do anything to slow him down.  He would probably say how crazy it would be to kick to Terek Hill and I would agree and say something about Denver better be smart enough to kick away from him.  I would say our only hope is how porous Kansas City’s defense is and dad would say something about how feeble Denver’s offense has been.  In a year like this one, we would not spark a lot of hope between the two of us. We wouldn’t talk long and would leave our conversation open to the possibility of a great Bronco win but also resigned to the fact that they would probably get beat by 30.  I would tell him about a bet I made with one of our high school kids, and he would laugh and tell me to send pictures when I had to pay up.  We would tell each other how much we loved each other and that we would talk after the game.  I am sure missing that phone call today.

My grief is a great reminder of how blessed I am and how much I love dad.  Grief is an indicator of love.  We never grieve what we don’t love.  The more one grieves, the more one loved.  Don’t despise grief.  Though extremely hard, embrace your grief as a gauge of God’s immense love for you.  I realize there are millions of people who would give anything to have a dad as great as mine for even a day. God gave me my dad for nearly 53 years.  I wish it would have been a few more years.  To know he’s with Christ and I’ll see him again is enough for me today.  I think that is part of what Paul means when tells us to grieve with hope (1 Thes 4:13).  I’ll miss him like crazy. Win or lose tonight, I’ll miss our phone conversations. Dad was starting to text.  It would have been fun to text during tonight’s game.

Grief is a process. But I sure don’t want to stop grieving dad.  It is a great reminder of how much he loved me, and how much I loved him, and even more of how exceedingly good and gracious God is to my family and me.  I’ll talk to you later, Dad.  Go Broncos!!