the countdown is over

There's nothing left to buy. Well, actually there probably is, but there's no place to buy it unless you don't mind doing your last second Christmas shopping at a convenience store or a 24 hour pharmacy. All the others are closed up and the holiday shopping season is over but for the returns and after the day bargains.

I drove over by the big mall here in Lexington last night. Except for a smattering of cars next to the Olive Garden, the lot looked huge and empty. A few hours ago all of those spaces were filled with cars that were filled with bags that were filled with gifts of every sort. Last minute adventurers who'd taken their chances were leaving feeling satisfied with their finds and anxious to give it all away. I was one of them.

Several years ago when I'd first taken the job as executive director of Kentucky's Governor's Mansion, I found myself in a really scary Christmas place. Since the governor's inauguration in Kentucky takes place in early December, I'd been tasked right after the November election with transitioning the official residence in a matter of days. My job was helping the outgoing first family move out and getting the new one settled in. It was a huge task that took lots and lots of hours to make happen. I was left with no, I mean absolutely no time to rub elbows with the rest of the holiday crowd.

So, late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, I finally forced myself away from my work long enough to try and snag a few last minute gifts for family and friends. I knew I had precious little time to get the job done, so I decided to go to one of the big department stores to try some one-stop miracle shopping. I knew how desperately late I was when everyone else on the property was using my entrance door to get out.

I ran in, grabbed a shopping cart and started tossing it full with pretty much whatever I could find. There was no time to shop strategically, so I just threw things in and hoped to sort it out among the gift-getters later. I had no clue what I was buying for who. I even threw in a TV. Somebody I know could use it.

Of course, it was close to closing time before I even got started. "Attention shoppers. Please make your final selections and make your way to the registers at the front of the store. Thank you for shopping with us, and have a merry Christmas." The voice was pleasant enough. She was probably anxious to get to her own holiday festivities, but she was kind to us obvious procrastinators. A few minutes later she kindly reminded us again. Same pleasant voice. Exact same words.

Surely I wasn't the only chum who was trying to save his hide and pride this late in the Christmas shopping game. There were still lots of folks in the store when I came in. "Attention shoppers. PLEASE make your final selections and proceed to the registers at the front of the store." I sensed a little urgency in the voice this time. I continued through the mostly empty aisles shopping/running/panting like a madman. I tossed in anything that looked like a somewhat thoughtful gift. If not for that doggone front right wheel I would've broken whatever speed limit they might want to think about imposing in such a place.

I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was keeping the entire retail sales associate world from celebrating the birth of Jesus. Then things started going black. It was like a plague from bible days. The darkness started in the back of the store and was closing in on to me fast. I was feeling the pressure, but surely, SURELY I wasn't the only shopper left in this huge warehouse of a building. "Attention shopper, SIR. Please make your way to the register at the front of the store! Thank you SIR." Evidently I was.

It was a little awkward. Just me, one poor, tired lady in a smock who'd been on her feet seventy-two of the last seventy-two hours, and a manager who was kind but ready to go home, or somewhere. But I'd prevailed and Christmas was a success. I'd managed to pick up something for everyone on my quick-put-together-mental-list. (I think that was the year I developed a real affinity for gift cards. I'd never been a big fan before, but I'm all about them now. They're not only life savers, they're lots of fun too.)

Evidently all the carts go back inside for the holiday. The nice manager helped me out to the car with my hasty stash. How kind, I thought. As soon as I lifted the last bag from the cart, she grabbed it and made a beeline back inside. That bad wheel didn't slow her down a bit.

The parking lot at the mall last night reminded me of the big empty box store lot that wild Christmas Eve night. Now that we've all made our final selections and proceeded to the register we can finally remember why we really do such things about this time every year.


the grammys! goodness!

It's been a great week for friends. I've heard from a lot of them the last few days. I consider myself very wealthy that way. I enjoy spending time, chatting with, and doing life with good friends. Some of the calls and emails have come from folks I've not heard from in a long time. I heard from one sweet lady I honestly thought was dead. I just know I read her obituary in the paper a year or so ago.

The news that prompted many of them to call with congratulations and lots of well wishes was pretty big in my view. It's the kind of thing that is made public right away, and big enough that you want to share it with as many of your best friends as possible. Out of the blue, on a regular, task-filled Thursday, with no hint at all that it was coming, I received a call from Ed Leonard at Daywind Records. He asked me what seemed like a really odd question. "What do Alan Jackson, the Gaither Vocal Band, the Del McCoury Band, Randy Travis and Kenny Bishop all have in common?" I couldn't put it together myself. I didn't see a connection. His answer; "They're all Grammy Award finalists for best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album!" I was completely, I mean totally and completely shell-shocked.

For my part, I had some questions. Is this something we were pursuing? If so, I wasn't aware. Did the record company lobby the folks who put the nominations together? Did anyone else? Was anyone anywhere expecting this to happen? From everyone I asked, the answer was, "No, no, no and no." I asked how it happened. No one could say.

I'm not sure of the process. Someone somewhere got the ball rolling and among all of the potentials, I received enough votes to be considered a finalist. I am grateful - very, very, very grateful. I know there are many, many others who deserve the honor. Most of them more so than me.

The Grammys are not a Southern Gospel Music based award. Let me rephrase that. The Grammys are much more than just Southern Gospel Music awards. Nonetheless, that means some don't consider them legitimate recognition. I understand. But I'm grateful nonetheless, and feel like I am one of the most blessed and fortunate guys in the world - however it happened. Whether it means anything to anyone else at all, it means a great deal to me - and many of my friends.

The fallout from such a high-profile achievement has already afforded me several opportunities to share my faith and my story with those not necessarily Christian. I've been able to tell reporters and others how God loves rebels and backsliders back to faith and forgiveness. The TV, radio and print interviews have allowed me to share the Christ of the beaten up and the successful. If nothing happens at the end of the red carpet, I've done my best to take advantage of my precious fifteen minutes. I may never get another.


i love a parade!!

As much as I would have enjoyed the extra sleep, there was no way I was going to miss the parade this morning. I don't remember the first time I saw it, but I'm thinking I became a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade junkie early on in my childhood, and I've made it my Thanksgiving Day kickoff ritual ever since.

To me it's magic. The bands, the balloons, the music, the faces, the floats, even the commercials between the bands, balloons, music... It does something for me that is both nostalgic and happy. I love a parade, especially one that requires thousands of prep hours, at least that many staffers, an unlimited panorama of color, the rerouting of a major thoroughfare, and three hours of national television time. It's a pretty impressive display if you ask me, and to think, it's all built around the one day our nation has set aside simply to say thanks.

If all of the things I should thank God for were placed on wheels and paraded through town for everyone to view, I'm fairly certain that some would feel my life is way too sheltered. But wouldn't it be really cool if each of us could make a float that displayed all of the things we had to be thankful for, and then have a REAL Thanksgiving parade?

A close friend of mine survived her own bout with breast cancer this year. She'd most certainly build her float with pink ribbons and celebration tunes. A family I know spent several anxious hours waiting to hear if their son made it through a terribly violent attack in Iraq. They fell to their knees and rejoiced when the good news of his survival finally arrived. What an awesome float that would make. Just two days ago a nineteen year old kid who was running from the law violently crashed his car in my parents' front yard. Mom said it looked bad. The police said he may not live. The last report says he did. I'm sure his family would like to spank his butt, then put him on parade.

Most of us have big, big things to be thankful for. We could build some pretty impressive floats. It's always easier to stop the rush and offer genuine gratitude when we've just come through a major tempest, but paid mortgages, supplied cupboards, steady paychecks, healthy loved ones, and everyday blessings are no insignificant matters either. If it were possible to see the hand of God in all of our dealings we'd probably feel compelled to put on a parade everyday. We'd have to just to keep up.

I'm both impressed and embarrassed by my list. Some of the things I'm grateful for sorta seem selfish and self-centered. But I see everything that is good in my life as a blessing, a gift from a good God. Gifts are added blessings. He's not obligated to give them really. Just like a bonus is not a part of the paycheck, His gifts are His way of adding graciousness to obligation.

Matt, Meredith and Al are about to cut the ribbon and turn the parade loose onto Broadway. It's raining in New York today, but the faces are bright, the instruments are tuned, the dancers are huddled, the balloons are ready, the clowns are giddy and somewhere back there at the end of the line there's a guy in a red suit who's gonna introduce us to the gift giving season. As happy as I always am to see him, to me he's a little late. I've been receiving good gifts from a great God all year long.


today it's her birthday...

"Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States!" (Roll Hail to the Chief.) In walks the nation's first female president - Casie Rachelle Bishop. Then I wake up.

It's a really cool dream. My first-born, my daughter as a mover and shaker, a decision maker, a doer of good, right and noble deeds. Casie is all of those - and she's only eighteen. Even if she has no aspirations to be the leader of the free world, or does not seek a spotlight or a place in history, my baby girl has the power of influence and the ability to make my days at least the most beautiful and perfect in the world.

Mine wasn't the only baby born on November 10th 1988. As a matter of fact, one of Casie's best friends today was born that same day in that same hospital. They laid next to each other and started their lifelong-so-far friendship even before they left the nurse's care. Today both of them are beautiful, smart and ambitious young ladies.

That's the thing I'm trying to get used to. My baby girl, the once completely naive, curious and not-a-care-in-the-world infant is now a young lady. She's "legal." For the past several months we've been discussing colleges and majors and life's decisions and her place in the world. Privately I've been contemplating MY place in HER world. Even if she does seek my input, I know that her decisions now will have less to do with me and more to do with herself and others. That's as it should be.

Not one single twenty-four hour period goes by that I don't think of her. I often look back at pictures of her in more playful, less serious times. I relive tea parties, games of tag and Candyland, and pushing her on the playground swing. I remember her Easter Sunday dresses, her nervous lines in the church plays, her very softly sung school choir solos, her recitals, her tantrums and her face as our bus pulled away for another singing trip. I remember her first birthday...

We're going to New York to celebrate this monumental day in my little girl's life. I want this occasion to be one she'll never forget. Even if my motivations are partly to make more memories with one of the most precious humans in my life, I'm gonna let the daughter I couldn't imagine not having, loving or holding know that her place in my heart, in my life was only created when she came into it.


ugly politics

My work at the state capitol here in Kentucky is at least somewhat political by nature. Even though I engage in political conversations with many of my friends on both sides of the ideological and political spectrum, I usually try to avoid a great deal of the subject here. However, this day after one of the most unsettling (some would say) and exciting (others would say) election days to come along in a while allows me an opportunity to weigh in and share some thoughts of my own.

I've worked through the middle of some pretty violent campaign storms and harsh political battles - almost constantly since coming off the singing road several years ago. But this one was especially ugly to me. It seemed like an intensely bitter election cycle, and I don't know if we're any better for it today or not.

I will say this, despite what some idealists would like to assume, ugly and not-so-dignified political campaigning has gone on for a long, long time. Take the time to study world and American political history and you'll find that mud slinging and whisper campaigns have been a regular part of the strategy as far back as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln - probably even before. Accusations and deceptions in campaigns are not new lows.

That doesn't stop me from being frustrated and disillusioned by today's tactics though. The people who ask for our votes and expect reverential respect once they are elected are the same ones who allow their party headquarters to run not-so-honest accusation campaigns that distort histories, mislead consumers and damage humans and their families. What's noble about that?

I can't agree that the end justifies the means if the means that is questionable is supposed to lead to us trusting the victor. If we're not told the entire truth by the guy or gal asking for our vote, why should we expect he/she won't hide a detail here or there to keep his/her job? I want to vote for someone who is honorable in his tactics and approach. I want to know that I've granted a sacred trust to someone who earned it with their integrity and refusal to kneel to misleading statements and accusations.

I was recently involved in a major political campaign that was brutal, but never really got personally ugly. Our opposition research uncovered some pretty damaging things about our opponent. But because leaking the information to the public or the media would have done great personal damage to our opponent's family and future, we decided it was not worth releasing. For once, dignity, respect and concern for another person's well being was more important than winning the most votes.


a very blessed patriot

I don't know what sparked it, but several years ago I remember driving along a beautiful stretch of Kentucky highway that was flanked with neatly groomed horse farms, when an overwhelming sense of patriotism enveloped me. I actually started crying. All-of-the-sudden I became aware of how very, very blessed I was to be born in, to live in the United States of America.

The desperate mothers, hopeless fathers and hungry children in foreign and desperate lands that we watch from a distance when we turn on the television probably don't see things so gleefully. Just as I wondered that day how I could be so blessed with freedom and abundance, they probably wonder why they were cursed to live their existence in such destitution and need. I didn't choose my land of origin, neither did they. And I have a feeling if those hollowed mothers could choose their child's place of beginnings, it would at least be in a place where they could find food.

My sense of patriotic pride is very real. I am proud of our nation. The great democratic experiment has proven itself. Every once in a while we get the opportunity to change course when we feel things aren't working right. Without violence or coup, with the voice of a vote we are asked our opinions and invited to express them. Sometimes the loser is sore, but their voice is not silenced by the victor. And in a handful of years we the people of a free and wealthy nation are given the opportunity to do it all over again.

I don't have to agree with everyone to believe that our nation is strong. As a matter of fact, I believe it is the diversity of ideas that gives us our strength. I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with my own understandings, but just as I value the opposing arguments of others, I expect them to regard my own ideas at least as valuable.

For centuries now a variety of skin tones, dialects, beliefs and cultures have made their way into our melting pot. Some who were born here have sadly taken offense to it. They've adopted the mindset of "my four and no more." They are threatened by the thought of unknown languages and strange customs. Just as many of our churches refuse to embrace a new song or a fresh understanding, these patriots feel it is their duty to protect their land from those who don't look like us or talk like us. In reality, we are all descendants of immigrants in search of a better life for our children.

Being a true American patriot does not mean we must reject and silence anything and everything we consider to be non-American. If being an American means we are hard working, it is to help those who cannot work. If to you your patriotism is related to your faith, by all means, express it and share it. But understand that if we demand that others cannot express their own, we are in danger of losing our own ability to do the same.

God has blessed America, and I'm grateful. My children will know more opportunity and abundance than most others around the world. I will continue to rally around my causes and enjoy the right to speak out, even when those in power do not agree. I can pray when I want - where I want. I can share the Gospel, sing of Jesus, and worship my God in this beautiful land. How blessed I am!


my best pal's big day!

Thirteen years ago today it was Father's Day, the most special one I'd known until then and since. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The Bishops had just performed in West Virginia the night before, and soon after I'd settled into my bus bunk for the ride home my phone rang. The word was that Debra was ready to deliver our second child. Our first was named Casie, and she was the prettiest, smartest and most talented child ever born in these United States. We had a pretty good track record, and I had no reason to believe our son would be any less.

Soon after we learned we would have a son we settled on a name. I always liked the name Nicholas, so I proposed and lobbied for that one. We decided we could raise a Nicholas, so for most of her pregnancy that was his name. I even mentioned him in the liners of a recording we released while we waited for little Nick to arrive. But on delivery day, we changed our minds and liked the name Aaron Caleb instead. Those were two awesome guys in the Bible, and we liked the A.C. thing. So Nick became Aaron. But just before we were to give the attending nurse the name our beloved child would carry for the rest of his life we changed our minds again.

Just before the church bells started ringing on June 20, 1993 the announcement by way of a tiny cry introduced our family to one of its most lovable and tender members. After putting the nurse off for several more minutes we decided that we wanted our son to be known as a follower of Christ. His birth certificate reads Christian Caleb Bishop. The name Christian is a lot to live up to. Caleb was a great role model for the earliest faith. But the Bishop part is the one I'm most selfishly proud of. Happy birthday Pal! You know how much I love you.


everybody knows father jim!

Father Jim Sichko is a really good friend. He pastors the St. Mark's Catholic Church in Richmond, Kentucky. I think he knows everyone. It sure seems like everyone knows him. We had dinner tonight at a nice little restaurant in downtown Lexington. The weather was nice, so we decided to sit out on the sidewalk to enjoy the sunshine, the fresh air and the really good food. We sat there attempting conversation while person after person walked up to our table or shouted from the street to Father Jim. It never bothered him. He stopped what he was doing, put down his fork (He told me I would have to forsake using my knife when we go to Rome later this fall.), and visit with everyone who bothered to say hello and chat.

It should always be expected that anyone should be friendly and cordial whenever possible. Father Jim really was. His food was getting cold. His drink was getting warm. It was difficult for us to finish a thought in conversation before someone else stopped by. I was feeling more and more honored to sit across the table from this guy who was obviously well known and even more obviously, well respected. Top business execs, common blue collars, college students and others were compelled to at least let their presence be known to him. I was astonished.

I met Father Jim a few years back during the Governor's campaign. He was assistant to the Bishop of the Lexington Diocese. We sorta had the same jobs - his with the Bishop, mine with the then Congressman. We admired each other's positions and became distant friends. Now that we're better friends we realize that we have much more in common.

Music and the stage is in Jim's blood - mine too. At one time he traveled and performed as a professional vocalist. So did I. He pursued what he knew was the calling God had placed on his life. Me too. Now he stands before congregations and conference crowds sharing what he knows to be true about God - grace trumps sin. I am too.

We had to do it in quick segments, between interruptions, but the thing that consumed our conversation more than anything else was the wonderment of knowing God well and sharing Him within our own limits. He pastors a beautiful congregation of caring people, and at the same time he rubs shoulders with many of the entertainment world's most well known. Not only to us commoners appreciate his heart, but so do the big time movers and shakers. And even though celebrities know his name, Father Jim Sichko is much more interested making it clear that God does too.


my time in the lock-up - well, sorta

Looking around the room I wonder what everyone else is in for. I've never been in jail, except for visiting a friend or touring a new facility with the Congressman/Governor I work for. It was almost a creepy feeling - sorta like I was dirty for being there. I kind of felt that way tonight as I sat among the admitted guilty at traffic school. We all broke the law to get here. The fine folks at the courthouse don't just randomly draw names from a lottery to share the experience with. We all earned our place among the condemned.

The instructor told us right up front that we were not there to be punished. He then went on to say that we'd spend the next four hours without food, drink or communication from the outside world. If we decided to leave we would forfeit the privilege of driving for a while. The doors were locked and we were processed in one-by-one. Never being incarcerated before, it sure felt prison-lite to me.

I don't have any traffic violations on my driving record. And to be honest, I had a friend in a strategic place who offered to see that my recent speeding violation did not exist on any official transcript. But I was ready to take full responsibility. I was going too fast when the officer hit me with his radar. He was well within his rights, and obligated to slow me down. Besides, as dumb as it sounds, I was ready for a new experience. I'd never been to traffic school before.

I'd love to see a crowd like this at church. There were only about thirty something people in the class, but the mix of humans was great. Name a people-group, they were probably represented in the room. And as much as we probably all had not in common, we were all much more alike than not. It was really cool to see how we all understood by the end of the night. The older, white guy who was pulled over in the BMW found a seat next to the young Hispanic whose jalopy van got stopped. I was driving a marked state car when the radar picked me up. I spent my four hours next to a big and burly biker wearing a do-rag who thought motorcycles had special road privileges.

Two grandmas sat behind me. They showed off pictures of their grandchildren and laughed about how they'd explain their criminal behavior to them. The fairly effeminate black guy in front of me was more upset about the cell phone ban than anything else. He obviously was missing something in the outside world.

The class included a nurse, an attorney (obviously not very well connected), a few college students (including a star athlete), a school teacher, a mechanic (the pimp-my-ride kind), a very quiet stay-at-home mom, an exotic dancer (again obviously not very well connected), a minister (again, again obviously not very well connected), a lady that I wasn't sure was a lady, and, of course, the executive director of the Governor's Mansion (that would be me.) What a group!

I sat there, among such an eclectic mixture, envisioning all of us as a group of humans who had come to worship God. I imagined how pleased He would be if we were not forced, but delighted to gather with such strange and different people that we obviously share life and the road with, but we've come as His colorful creation worshipping the imaginative Creator who made us all.

At the end of our four hour lock up, we were all anxious to hear that our time had been served, our penalty paid, and our lives returned. As the instructor read off each name, the room cheered the accomplishment of each newly freed convict.
Nothing mattered more than seeing a cellmate (more like a classmate) attain their liberty. Every color, profession, persuasion, accent, age and education congratulated the other as they stepped back into freedom. What I'd offer to see it all over again - in our churches, among the redeemed.


a party in hell

It's a holiday in Hell, Michigan. They've been waiting for two thousand, six years, six months and six days for it, but the town is having the blowout party of a lifetime to celebrate the "most evil and sinister day of the century." Although this is not the first time the calendar has read 06/06/06, it's the first and only time anyone who is alive today will see such a calendar page. The last time it happened was a thousand years ago, then a thousand years before that. Actually, that first June 6th was the only legitimate six-six-six day ever. The rest are copies of the original with an additional thousand years tacked on.

It's turned into quite a festival of events too. A major motion picture showcasing the birth and life of a kid who grows up as the Antichrist debuts today. It's a remake of an older movie. I didn't see the original. I most likely will not see the remake. I'm not into horror sorts of films. I heard there is another movie opening in theaters today too. It's called The Beast.

Then there are the Christian opportunists who've taken advantage of the occasion to market their own version of stuff that seems more appealing to us on a day like this.

I'm into the Left Behind book series. I think we're up to book 57 now (exaggeration). I've invested in every book (hard back edition) in the series, so I sorta feel like I'll be abandoning ship if I don't stay with it at this point.

When the first book in the series was released I grabbed it and read it fast, I was thrilled to know there would be a follow-up book. I was still excited when the story continued into yet another edition. I was thinking I'd heard somewhere that there would be five or seven books in the series altogether. But I knew something was happening when the first two books covered two years, and the third and fourth only six weeks (exaggeration). Now we're up to book number fifteen with the 060606 release of what I was sure had to be the last title, The Rapture. Not so.

I actually got my copy of the book yesterday. Feeling like I'd been lured into a buying pattern that I couldn't escape, I turned to one of the inside front pages where all of the previous titles are listed to find out if this was in fact going to finally be the end. At some point these folks have to die. As a matter of fact, if you've read the series, you know that they actually did - a book or two ago. That was supposed to be the end, but someone who saw this as a way good opportunity decided that all of us with the dollars to buy the books would enjoy learning about the births, lives, baptisms and possessions of the characters we'd come to know so well. So we started all over again, just earlier in time.

So now, here we are on June 6, 2006 picking up where we left off. It's the perfect day for a book called The Rapture to be released. And I learn that this will in fact not be the end. There will be more after The Rapture. Even though eyes have not seen and ears have not heard and it has not even entered into a man's heart what Heaven will be like, somehow Tim and Jerry will find a way to put it into words and sell it in a book. Lord knows they're good at both.


blah, blah, blah - and happy mother's day mom!!

It seems there is a lot of catching up to do. More than a month's worth of weeks have come and gone since I've had more than a passing opportunity to say hello and share my fondness for you. Thank you for your patience.

If you visited the web site as recently as a couple of weeks ago, you've noticed the new web site look and layout already. We did a lot of research and designed several looks before settling on the one we are using now. I hope you enjoy the new look and feel.

Happy Mother's Day!! I'm a few days late, but I need to let the world (or at least those who read these words) know how beautiful, strong and supportive my mom is. Shirley Bishop has known blessings, grief, anger, happiness, fights and picnics. She excels and remains calm in every situation. I pray for her resolve and understanding in life.

I applaud, support, pray for and admire every person who has taken up the challenge to defend and protect the interests and people of the United States. You are our heroes. You are our pride. You are our weapons in combat and our shields in war. The day we've set aside to honor those who gave ultimately is also a day that we recognize your priceless contribution to liberty and freedom.

Most people who are not horse people do not understand the magnificence or enormity of the Kentucky Derby. If you never even knew which horse won on that first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, you couldn't help but know Barbaro's story a couple of weeks later when he broke his hind leg in front of millions on television. Those of us who cared cringed, and some even cried. It made a day at the most exciting two minutes in sports even more magic for those of us who saw a magnificent horse's last competitive ride.

The new record is ready to be heard. It was exciting and intimidating to stand in the ballroom of the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort, Kentucky to sing the songs that reveal more of my heart than anything I've ever recorded. My worlds collided when my political friends, my personal friends and my Gospel music friends all gathered to help me celebrate this first solo release in over ten years. Please help me pray these songs, more importantly the messages, reach the hearts and targets that God intends.


enamored and confused

There's a lot about Jesus I don't think I'll ever figure out. He had it made at one time. He did the craziest thing when he gave up the ultimate life to take on earthly life and all of its limits. God confined to skin, minutes and meals bamboozles me. Nothing but love could've forced him to do it. The more I think about it the weirder it gets. I'm still not sure what it is about me that makes me so worth it.

Knowing me the way He does, I can't imagine He expected much from me in return. He knows my limits. He knows I can't come close to returning all of the favors I've enjoyed because of Him. The fact that He trusts me at all just blows me away. But that's His nature. That's just what He naturally does - if a super-duper-extreme-above-the-laws-of-nature God can do anything naturally.

I'd never thought of God as being attractive. I was mostly told that He is rigid, harsh and perpetually angry. But I've found Him to be more ready to hug than to hit. He comes across to me now preferring to kiss than to kick. That makes Him very attractive to everyone who's been led to believe they must fear His wrath before they trust His love. Who would want to attach themselves to a deity who creates life, is life, only to make it painful and stomp it out? He gave us life in the first place so we can know Him forever.

I'll never figure Him out. No one will. So when I read the great scholars who knew Him well, but not entirely, I have to remember that they speak and write from the knowledge they have, but they don't know everything. No one does. No one can. From what I do know about Him, I love Him. From what I've learned about Him, I can't help but really love him.


my birthday gift

I've already outlived Jesus. Well, not in a technical sense. He was around long before my lineage began forming, and his life is not at all limited to the number of days his feet actually touched earth dirt. But I've awakened to more birthdays than he did while he was living here. And today is one of them.

This is a milestone birthday for me. As a matter of fact, this is a special milestone year for both of my kids as well. Christian becomes a teenager in June, and Casie becomes an adult of 18 years in November. I start a new decade today.

I'm not really big on celebrating my own birthday. Except once. When I was in the fourth grade I had been invited to a friend's birthday party. I enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd have one when my own special day rolled around. The games, the friends, the cake, the attention all appealed to me. So, as my own birthday neared I invited a boat load of friends over for a big KB birthday bash at the Bishop spread.

I did things sorta backwards. I didn't ask mom or dad if they'd sponsor such a shindig until the day before the big day. However, I'd already invited my A-list friends and they'd all gotten permission and filed the proper paper work to ride the bus home with me for the blowout party of the year. Dad said something like, "Ask your mother." Mom said she had planned a special dinner for the family and the next door neighbor kid. (He'd invited me to his party a few weeks before.) So the answer was, "Not this year sweetheart."

Now what was I going to do? The next day was party day. All of the friends I'd invited were expecting to end up at my place for games, treats and an all around good time. I couldn't cancel the party and disappoint them all. So I didn't. I kept thinking all day that I should probably call Mom and tell her that I was bringing a bunch of my buddies home with me. She deserved some sort of warning. But I didn't.

The bus ride home that afternoon was brutal. I was surrounded by good friends, but I kept thinking about my poor momma who was at home preparing a meal for the family, totally unaware of all that was about to be unleashed on her. At each stop along the way I considered abandoning ship. The eight or ten friends, whose parents had probably taken advantage of the opportunity for a night out without the kids, were oblivious to my worry. My brother Mark was anxious to see how I'd keep a happy face until the last friend left and the punishment was initiated.

Finally, the bus stopped and emptied itself in front of 2735 Old Irvine Road. I knew Mom was most likely in the kitchen, so I asked my friends to head to the backyard while I went in to get things together. I don't recall the exact exchange, but to the best of my recollection, the conversation went something like this.

Mom: Take your shoes off. How was your day at school? Did your friends all wish you a happy birthday?

Me: Mom, I have to tell you something.

Mom: I said take your shoes off. What is it you need to tell me? Hang on, there's something going on in the backyard.

Me: Mom, I brought some friends home from school. I told them I was having a birthday party. They're expecting cake and ice cream and games and stuff.

Mom: ...

Me: Mom?

Mom: Get in my purse, run down to the store and get as much candy as you can with however much money is there. I'll make some games or something. I thought I told you we weren't going to do this this year??

Me: I was too embarrassed to cancel my own birthday party. There's not much money in here.

Mom: We'll make it work.

And she did. We played home made pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and the candy was the prize. We all had tiny pieces of birthday cake. (She'd only made enough for the family and the neighbor kid.) As far as my friends knew, this was the original plan put into place the day the invitation was extended. Dad came home to a yard full of rowdy 4th graders, and Bro ended up joining in the fun. It ended up being the best birthday ever.

These days I'd just as soon my birthday come and go without any fanfare. But I have enough good friends who won't let that happen. Yesterday, my calendar told me I had a meeting in the State Capitol Building. When I arrived, the Governor and First Lady and most all of their staff, were there to celebrate my day with cake, punch and friendship. The kitchen staff at the Governor's Mansion where I work prepared my favorite lunchtime meal. And last night my best friend in the world deceived me and surprised me with a gathering of very special and close friends.

As the day goes on I'll hear from others. Casie has already wished me a happy day. I expect I'll hear from Christian when he wakes up. Mom and Dad never let this day go by without a call. My brother Mark faxed me a five dollar bill last year. It's an inside family joke. I may get a raise this year.

As much as I'd like to treat this day like any other, I have too many friends and family who love me enough not to let that happen. That's a beautiful gift for a guy like me.


i'm a quester

I love my church. I've found myself having to defend it fairly often. We're an odd lot at Quest. When we gather it's not your traditional hymns - announcements - offering - sermon - benediction type service. Our style of worship is not everyone's cup of tea. Sometimes it's not even mine. Our band plays lively music and the worship team leads us with energy and passion from one joyful or intimate moment to the next. I love the old songs of the church I grew up singing, and from time to time I'll enjoy visiting the services at one of the other, more traditional churches here in town to hear them again. I appreciate their worship just as much, and I value the heritage they honor. I'm glad there are places for all of us to meet with God in the way we enjoy most. But I really love my church.

I know there are other congregations like it, but I've never seen a more eclectic mix of humans who gather week after week all because they want to know God better. Before you ever get in the building you can tell something is up. Shiny, high-dollar sports cars, luxury models and SUVs are scattered among the muddy Jeeps, ragtag jalopies and family vans in the lot. The bumper stickers say a lot too. Some for Bush. Some for Kerry. Some for saving the whales. Some for saving the babies. A PETA and an AFA were parked side-by-side today. Somebody drove each car into the lot on their way to meet with Jesus. Then you get inside.

I just love looking at the odd assortment of people-types in this place. Two weeks ago I noticed a very clean-cut sixtyish gentleman with groomed silver hair, a tailored suit and a big bible sitting next to a younger guy with radical hair, ripped up jeans, a wrinkled tee-shirt and a piercing or two (or three). They sang the same songs, read the same passage of scripture and lifted themselves up together as the worship grew deeper and more personal. It was a beautiful picture; four hands in the air - two trimmed, two loaded with rings and scars; two voices - one singing properly in tune, one making nasally attempts; four feet tapping - two in designer Aldos, two in stringy flops; two hearts beating - one in love with a Redeemer that saves from complacency and pride, one melted by a God that wanted a loner on the run. Two men in worship. God saw two men. Nothing else.


welcome little abby

I was at the hospital this week. My niece Whitney delivered to my parents their first great grandchild. Her name is Abigail, and she is an obvious Bishop. I was able to stop by the hospital and visit with baby, mom, dad, grandma and a room full of friends for a while. Tiny, new life really inspires me - and frightens me.

When I see the itty-bitty fingers, the speck of a nose, hair with the texture of cotton candy, and know that her heart is the size of my thumb, I'm aware that her little personality will develop traits along the way that reveal who she is beneath her skin and that her little heart will learn the values that matter most. I get excited about the future she can control and concerned for the parts that will be left to the world around her.

My prayer for little Abby is this: "Father, you have blessed us with a brand new opportunity to mold a creation of yours into a child of opportunity, a youngster of ambition, and an adult of contribution. Please give our family the wisdom, patience, understanding and compassion to do it the way that honors You most. And let us see the world a lot like her innocent and inexperienced eyes do - without cynicism, prejudice or hatred. Help us rely on You as she relies on us for her very life. Make her Your instrument. In Christ's name. Amen."



Is your email box loaded? It seems mine always has a steady supply of messages waiting to be read and responded to. I promise myself I'll get to everyone of them at some point - and I will - eventually. I love hearing from folks, and if someone takes the time to write, I should do my best to holler back when I can. Then there are the forwards...

Like everyone else with an email addy, it seems the "FWDs" fill much of my inbox space. Being totally honest with you, I don't read most of them. Between hellos from friends, encouraging notes from strangers, and business mail that has to be tended to, my time at the 'puter would be endless if all of the forwards got full attention. And some of them probably deserve it. Some of them are witty, some are strange, some are cute and some should've ended their tour of the cyber-world long before they found their course to my box - for the third time. Then there is the one that I do take the time to read (for some reason), that speaks something honest, simple and magnificent. Now I wonder what I've missed by not parking it for a while longer and taking the time to read them all.

by: Maya Angelou

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin'."
I'm whispering "I was lost,
Now I'm found and forgiven.
" When I say... "I am a Christian"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble
And need Christ to be my guide.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak
And need His strength to carry on.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed
And need God to clean my mess.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible
But, God believes I am worth it.

When I say... "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches.
So I call upon His name.
When I say... "I am a Christian"
I'm not holier than thou,
I'm just a simple sinner
Who received God's good grace, somehow!


losing anthony...

Even with a daily listing to remind us that our lives are not without limit, it is when the hand of death comes so close to us that we are shaken awake and reminded that we have only a few real opportunities to do the thing we are certain God has created us to do. He calls. He equips. We do. That's what Anthony Burger did to the very, very last moment. He did the thing that God had called him, and most certainly equipped him to do. And he did it till the end of his life.

We wanted him to do it a lot longer. We expected the energetic entertainment, the masterful music, and the special spirit that Anthony shared from the stage so many days and nights of his life to last many more years. Many of us depended on his friendship, his counsel and his wit to lighten our personal loads. His family needs his guidance, his support and his love because that's what family members do for each other. Now all of us are devastated by the abrupt ending, and broken by the terrible loss.

I just took a look at my local newspaper. I scanned the obituary page to see if there was anyone listed there that I knew. There were probably thirty or so names mentioned with just enough information to make me ask myself if that was the so-and-so I knew as a kid. Friends of mine who work at the newspaper tell me it is consistently the most turned to and read page issue after issue.

I was relieved to find a page full of strangers today. But, no doubt, someone opened the page and gasped at the news as they learned for the first time of a fallen friend, neighbor or relative. Depending on the closeness they knew, they may have been able to move on and live the rest of their day with a sense of normalcy. Those of us who knew Anthony well won't enjoy that feeling for some time to come.


recording grace

I woke up this morning to more snow. The snow is not the news. Neither is the fact that I woke up. That I woke up this morning, however, is a bit surprising to me. I got in pretty late last night from three intense days of recording in Nashville. I was sure, and honestly, hoping, that I'd sleep at least until noon or later. But I didn't.

The last two or three recordings the Bishops made were based pretty much on a theme. We hadn't always taken that approach early on, but later we found it was a successful formula and helped the record companies and distributors market the recording. The last recording we made together, Stories, was probably the single best recording we ever put together. Every song was built around the idea of sitting around and sharing stories of faith, struggle and victory.

With an even more determined mindset, I wanted to do the same with my first solo recording in over ten years. When I started talking with the folks at Daywind Records, I had to work hard to convince them that what I wanted to try and do was worth the risk. They acknowledged a little concern, but ultimately felt good about the idea of putting together a record that makes grace and mercy the only thing you see - or hear. I'm grateful for their confidence in me. And now that we've chosen our songs, arranged the music, recorded the tracks, and put some singing on it, I'm more convinced than ever that this was the right thing to do.

Grace is just so huge. I mean, without it there would be no Southern Baptist Convention, no Roman Catholic Church, no Nazarenes, Methodists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Adventists or anything else that teaches unconditional mercy. But grace is even bigger than all of the different flavors of Christianity. It's bigger than can be described in a sermon, a song, a book or a denominational creed. It goes and comes in so many different directions. It is given to us. We give it to others. There is the grace that sees past our sins to save us. The grace that sustains us in trouble and worry. There is even a grace that orders our steps. Grace is huge.

At first we were worried we wouldn't be able to find ten songs that say it the way we wanted to. In the end, we were disappointed that we had to keep it at such a limited number. We heard so many fantastic songs that gripped us, blessed us and made us shout. But we had to choose the ten that we felt said it best within the context of the complete recording. We could do quite a few records on grace. I'm really anxious for you to hear what we are putting together. A lot of my singing friends are joining me on several of the songs. I've been praying that God would make this the record that reaches the used-to-be believer. I've also been asking Him to use it to drag all of us who've been satisfied in our state-of-grace complacency, into the more dangerous places where grace can really abound. That has to be its real intent anyway.

We still have a bit more work to do on the recording. But grace will remain the focus, the message, the intent, the theme. I woke up excited about it way too early this morning.


saying goodbye to doug

It's snowing now. Just a few hours ago - this time yesterday in fact, it was sunny and pushing the mid-fifties. But now it's snowing and cold. Some people at the store this morning were complaining. Many had to change their plans. They'd enjoyed a few unusually warm and sunny Kentucky winter days this week, and planned for a few more. But now it's snowing.

Life is good for me now. I enjoy my work with the Governor's office; I have a lot of loyal, fun and honorable friends; the two most beautiful, talented and smart kids in the entire world call me daddy; I am awarded the grace of a loving God who believes in me. Life is good.

I woke up one morning this week to the same terrible and tragic news that you did. One of Christian music's most talented musicians, friends and believers stepped away from us. Had we known that Tuesday would be so sad we might have laughed a little more on Monday. Had we known, we'd probably have made one more call before bed. Had we known, surely we would've done something different, something at least to try and either prepare for the loss or avoid it all together. We wanted Doug Riley to stay with us. Had we known...

All of those people pushing their carts and whining about the weather had the luxury of a forecast. They had plenty of time to adjust their agendas. It was unreasonable to think that winter weather wouldn't show up in the winter. Complaining may have given them a sense of release, but the plows are still pushing snow to the side and spreading salt down the middle. The warmer days were a midwinter treat indeed, but putting the boots and shovels away was not ideal. Maybe they wouldn't have, had they known.

I didn't get to go to Doug's funeral. Another friend here in Kentucky said good-bye this week too. I was at his funeral. We had lots of time to plan for his passing though. He'd been very ill for quite a while. The news of his death was not unexpected. As sad as it was, it seemed much more natural and not nearly as difficult to believe. The thought of someone as alive as Doug, playing the drums or manning the mixing board or cracking a joke, taken so abruptly has left us all numb. The family of my friend in Kentucky had the luxury of a pretty reliable forecast. The family of my friend in Alabama did not.

It's still snowing. The forecast says it will for the next couple of days at least. But even if the experts told us differently, it's still winter in Kentucky - we might as well plan for it.


jesus for mayor

Jesus would've been a lousy politician. First off, he said what he thought. He also had a perspective that no one else had or could ever get. He saw humanity's needs within the context of eternity and spiritual condition. He knew why people did what they did, and he was surely convinced that laws and lines couldn't fix the ultimate problem. That's why he came. It would take more than words and penalties. It would take sacrifice - a self sacrifice. And what politician is willing to do that?

I had a couple of really interesting conversations this week. I guess you can call a rapid exchange of emails a conversation these days. Between my work with the Governor and my ministry, I probably receive and reply to at least a hundred or so emails a day. I know I spend an awful lot of time typing. But a couple of email conversations I had this week were a bit more thought provoking than the rest - if only because they were basically identical, only in reverse.

A lot of people figure since I work in a very political environment that I am always interested in talking politics. They also assume that I have very firm political leanings or a particular political party that I'm anxious to defend or promote. And honestly, they're right - partly.

Interestingly enough, early this week, on the same day, I received two emails - one from a very staunch Republican and another from a true yellow-dog Democrat. Both were cordial and friendly. The pachyderm was singing the praises of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and current President Bush. The donkey was worshipping Franklin D. Roosevelt, JFK and Bill Clinton. Many politicians and governmental leaders are convinced they are a savior of sorts in many ways. This is why.

There are a multitude of political parties and organizations out there. Obviously, in our country the Ds and the Rs are the biggest and most influential. And I am convinced they are also one of our country's biggest stepping stones/stumbling blocks. Both of the guys I "chatted" with this week were completely sold on their respective political parties. It's good to have a rallying point, so I have no issues there. But neither would even admit that anyone associated with the opposing party was much more than human. The words and names they used were ugly, mean and unnecessary. It was disappointing to read, and dangerously narrow.

Both fellas took their jabs directly from their party's talking points. It was an echo of the same things you hear on the talking head TV shows. Both had more to say about the other party's infidelities and weaknesses and corruption than they did their own party's philosophy and platform. Both were reluctant to even acknowledge their own camp's problems and indiscretions. And when they did, it was totally excusable and no one else's business - unless someone from the other side did it. They each took great pleasure in beating up the other's humans. Neither was willing to even consider there could be good people and productive policy somewhere on the other side. They'd drawn their lines and it was on something as flimsy as a political label and nothing more.

I'm around politics everyday. I work in the middle of it. I've studied it, eyed it, promoted it and regretted it. I've watched good and helpful legislation get buried, ignored or defeated because someone from the "wrong" political party drafted it. I've seen otherwise cordial and respectable men and women who started out ready to serve the people who elected them get backed into corners, threatened into deals, and rendered ineffective because they didn't play with the right team. The object of the game has become, "beat the other guy only because he's not one of us," instead of, "work together and serve the people who sent us here." And some of the ways this is done is ugly and most hypocritical. We have some pretty unrighteous people throwing some awfully big stones.

Thanks to big media, those of us who vote now are not only segregated by a letter, an animal and a philosophy, but now we're assigned a color. You now live in either a red state or a blue state. And thanks to technology, your county, your city and your voting precinct is colored in as well. Just one more thing to mark us and separate us.

We have enough reasons to divide ourselves. Atheist versus believer. Christian versus Muslim versus Jew versus Hindu and all the rest. Protestant versus Catholic versus those folks who claim they're Christian but probably neither. Then there are enough split-off churches to confuse Confucius. We all need a place to go, a place to belong. But belonging to one place does not mean discounting everyone who belongs somewhere else.

I enjoyed the exchange I had with my political friends. Ultimately, I agreed with neither of them on everything, but both of them on some things. I wonder how Jesus would register if he voted in America today.

"It's amazing how much a man can accomplish when he's not concerned with who gets the credit."

"If two people always agree on everything, one of them is not necessary."

-Authors will not be identified so everyone can agree these are pretty good statements.


dreaming of getting along

It is said that most Hatfields had no idea why they hated the McCoys. It was just expected, because Hatfields hate McCoys and vice-versa. Neither chose to be born to one family or the other, but once you were delivered into the clan, you were marked for hate and expected to return the affection. It's so hard for me to imagine that any person could hate another, especially for things that cannot be chosen or controlled.

Hate is never good and is certainly not the mark of anyone who wants to call themselves a follower of Christ. It may show itself in a variety of ways, but prejudice, however it is expressed, is still a form of hatred.

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

Who wouldn't want that? Who wouldn't want to acknowledge and act out the creed that places every person on an equal plane - a place where every human being is afforded their own right to live, thrive and love? I recently read the entire text of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech. He delivered it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC in August of 1963. I wasn't even born, and I was only two years old when he was buried. But I have great admiration for this risk taking giant.

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." He went on to say, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with the little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.”

I know several folks who've been taught to look down on others who are not like them or don't measure up to a certain standard. I have Protestant friends who won't even consider Catholics to be their brothers. There are still congregations who are being led by prejudicial pastors to believe that they are God's only chosen and everyone else is the enemy. I have a couple of friends who express their prejudice through sad ethnic jokes that belittle anyone who is not white, Baptist, at least middle-class, and a proud tax paying American from the south. I wonder where their thinking was first molded. I'd like to know who planted the seeds of self-superiority in their minds. That kind of thinking certainly isn't found in the teachings of Christ.

Dr. King had some tremendous examples in his own life. His mother was known as a Godly woman who served her community and her church with a generous heart. Only six years after her famous son's death, she too was gunned down while she played the organ during a Sunday morning church service in Atlanta. After losing a son and his wife to hate and prejudice, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. said at his wife's funeral on July 3rd 1974, "I cannot hate any man."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will always be a controversial figure. He didn't consider himself a saint, and he knew his human nature would always be his biggest weakness. But he was a risk taker. Some will always like him and give creed to his words only because he was a black man. Some will always hate him and completely disregard anything he had to say only because he was a black man. He wasn't asked if he wanted to be born in the south, black, a male, or with the name King. So beyond the man, his color, his heritage, and his geography, was the principle he promoted and died believing in. It was the same one that was espoused and documented by the worthy white men who framed the foundation of our country.

"...let freedom ring. And when we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”