Thursday, March 30, 2006
Coach Gibbs’ speech was nothing profound, but it was profoundly entertaining and helpful. He compared life to football—God is the coach, the Bible is the game plan, etc. Of course he shared all kinds of football stories and took several backhand slaps at the Dallas Cowboys… both of which I loved! (“I can tell that we have no Cowboys fans here this morning… no one is that ugly.”) He quoted liberally from the Bible, referring to it as God’s plan for our finances, our marriages and our lives. He said a lot of things that men need to hear, and about 1200 men were there listening because, well, he is Coach Gibbs. There is something very powerful and encouraging in hearing someone that visible and prominent sharing their Christian faith in a public way.
It was also encouraging to see so many Christian guys turn out so early to listen to a spiritual message. It is easy to get so busy in one's own little church and circle of fellowship that we feel rather isolated in our faith and Christian commitment. It is good at times to sit in a big group like that with other guys who share in common a commitment to Jesus Christ. We are not grasshoppers waiting to be crushed by a hostile world; we are not the only ones committed to God and His Son. We are children of the King who worship and serve Him connected to many others who worship and serve Him. It is good to be reminded that are so many who have ordered themselves around the Son, though perhaps in slightly different obit than mine.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Some would suggest that this use of foul language is inevitable. Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated Miss Manners column says, “Well, if it were inevitable I wouldn’t be doing my job.” She suggests that the problem is that people who are offended don’t speak up and say that they are offended. “Everybody is pretending they aren’t shocked and gradually people WON’T be shocked.” And what will happen when foul language starts being accepted and stops being offensive? Martin says, “Then those who want to be offensive will find another way.”
Is Martin right? Is swearing becoming more common because those who object to it remain silent? I think so. There are some setting in which no one swears simply because it is not-acceptable to do so. How many people curse when in court? It is interesting how a $100 fine for contempt of court can clean up someone’s language. It’s also interesting how many people instantly clean-up their language when they find out I’m a preacher. Why? Because something tells them that it is not appropriate to talk like that to a “man of the cloth!” I got downright tickled one day when a few holes into a round of golf the man pared up with us by the starter found out I was a minister. All of a sudden he couldn’t curse anymore… and it was killing him! People can speak without cursing; they curse because people around them allow them to do so.
Words matter. A radio talk show host was recently fired for directing a racial slur at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He said later that the word he used was an accidental slip of the tongue, and his station manager more or less accepted that… and fired him anyway. Why? Words matter. There are certain things that are not acceptable to say. Period. (The writer of the article that reported on the AP-Ipsos poll refered to earlier had to get special permission from their editor to even refer to the F-word). The reason for the proliferation of profanity is that we have allowed the settings in which profanity is acceptable to grow.
Paul says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up” (Eph 4:29). He later adds, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Eph 5:4). Along the same lines in Colossians Paul says, “Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Col 3:8). But perhaps the strongest statement comes from Jesus Himself in Matthew 12:36-37--
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment forSo we need to choose our words carefully. The words we use matter… and they may come back to haunt us.
every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be
acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Randall has been my elder, friend, co-worker, confidant and counselor ever since I moved back to Virginia to work with the Denbigh church family. In fact, Randall and Bobby have been for Lynn and me one of the few constants in a church whose only constant has been constant change. They have been constant hard workers and constant sources of encouragement. They have been here to minister to people and to people ministries in so many ways that it is pointless to try to enumerate them. We will not realize how much they do until they are gone and all of the little things that just seemed to happen don’t happen anymore.
But my sense of loss goes far beyond the jobs that will need replacements. Through the last quarter century, Randall has been much more than my elder-- he has been my compatriot in the pursuit of God grace and my traveling companion on a pilgrimage to restudy and revision my heritage. I have always had good relationships with my elders, but Randall and I have been on the same trajectory and the same page. Both Randall and Bobby have been my sounding boards and support system… and I trust that they will remain so.
God bless Randall and Bobby as they look to make a new life in Indiana. They will enrich the church there just as they have enriched it here. There will always be something of a hole that they have left here.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Consistency. Endurance. Perseverance. Very little that Arthur Winston did in his job repairing buses was particularly notable. He says, “It wasn't heavy work, that's the main thing. It's fast but not heavy, and I don't mind the work, so that's how I got by.” Not one single thing he did was amazing, but doing it over a lifetime day-in-and-day-out was amazing. That is a lifetime achievement story worthy of note and reward. What reward did Winston receive for his accomplishment? A free lifetime bus pass! Winston says that he is really looking forward to exploring parts of Los Angeles to which he has never been!
How many amazing things have you done in the service of God? Yeah? Me neither. Some people do, you know… but they are too busy doing them to read my silly little blog!
[God] will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. (Romans 2:6-7, NLT)
Eternal life goes to those who “persist in doing what is good.” Don’t get me wrong, God both calls and enables some of us to do amazing things like Abraham and Moses and David and Paul. But God calls us all to be persistent and consistent as we seek to do good, serve God and love others. The amazing part of this is that if we will just trust God, He will supply the endurance and persistence we need to be in this faith business for the long haul.
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus. (Romans 15:5, NASB)
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Well, it’s good to know that are elected officials are not just sitting around and doing nothing while our guys and gals in uniform are sacrificing for our freedom! Hey, I like genuine maple syrup as much as the next guy. But it seems to me that maybe a campaign to get our troops state-of-the-art flak jackets or state of the art armor for their humvees would be a little more helpful than making sure they have genuine Vermont maple syrup. I realize that familiar “creature comforts” are important when you are stuck so far from home, but one has to wonder whether the troops were suffering because they were eating imitation maple syrup (like most people back home) or whether this was more of an issue for the governor of our largest maple syrup producing state!
Much too often the church gets involved in maple syrup campaigns. We are called to serve God in a world ruled by “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 2:2). People all around us are hurting as the institutions that once gave them meaning are falling apart. The family has become brittle and kids are raised by one parent. People move around so much that community and extended family no longer gives them identity. And the church, the one institution that can give meaning and truth and hope, so often doesn’t stress any of those. We fracture and divide over Bible versions, church music, women’s roles on Sunday morning, and dozens of similar issues. A generation ago it was orphans’ homes, communion cups, and Bible classes. What will it be a generation from now?
It’s OK to argue over whether genuine maple syrup is worth the extra money over Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima imitations. But when you are at war, some issues don’t matter all that much. When we focus on the war effort, then the back seat issues... well, they take a back seat. Will God’s army will ever keep the front burner issues on the front burner? We should be able to recognize them—they are ones that are shaped like a cross!
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."
This familiar text from Ecclesiastes 9:10 reminds us that we are to serve God with all our strength. Serving God is never a competition, although we sometimes treat it that way. I remember reading of a small boy who came home from school all excited. He told his mother that he had tried out for a part in his first grade play, and he had gotten a part. When she asked him what was his part, he said, "I get to sit in the audience and clap and cheer!" (For some reason, I can relate to that kid... well, except for his postive attitude!) We can learn two things from that little boy:
- First, it is important to have people who clap and cheer. Those who encourage and support are just as important as those who may have "bigger" parts.
- Second, if your gift is to clap and cheer, then you must do that enthusiastically and with all your might!
The church is a family where everyone is valuable and everyone has a role. To whatever degree God has gifted you, to that degree you must serve Him and His church. But no gift is more important than any other gift. No work is more important. However there is another important message in the end of Ecclesiastes 9:10—
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Whatever our task is in building up the body of Christ, we had better get busy doing it for the time is coming when there will be no more work. Whatever it is that God is calling you to do or to be in His kingdom, stop putting it off! We need people who clap and cheer alright, but we need them to start doing so NOW!
Friday, March 17, 2006
I cannot imagine the pain of loosing a child or a spouse. And I certainly cannot imagine the pain of having my loved one's funeral used as a bully-pulpit by a group of radicals trying to get across a point… any radicals and any point. The first amendment concerns here are sticky, but Rep. Mike Rogers will soon introduce legislation to outlaw such an intrusion on the grief of these families. He is on record as saying,
American families burying their husbands or wives and sons or daughters who died while fighting for their nation are being subjected to horrible verbal and visual attacks by protesters… No grieving family should be faced with such disrespect or threats and intimidation.Homosexuality is a sin. The gospel is the power of God that overcomes sin. But a bunch of hateful people waving hateful signs and shouting hateful slogans while intruding upon the grief of others is NOT the gospel. And this kind of behavior will NOT turn America back to God! If anything, it will have the opposite effect. Oh, this may make Fred Phelps and the confused folks at WBC think they are serving God. Just like people who blow up abortion clinics and murder people think they are serving God. Just like people who fly airplanes into buildings think they are serving God. Hey, if you want to do evil things, then go ahead. But don’t blame God for evil behavior. Trust me… that will annoy Him!
Thursday, March 16, 2006
For many of those years, Lynn and I have taken the three days before the lectures actually start to enjoy a little mini-vacation on the California coast. Hey, we out there anyway, so why not. After a year or two do seeing all the Southern California tourist stuff (Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, a Dodger's game, etc), we found a little resort town halfway between L.A. and San Fran called Pismo Beach. There impressive cliffs cascade right down to the ocean, and the long, sandy beach provides one of the most impressive beach walks anywhere.
Yesterday, Pismo Beach made the national news, likely in the only way a sleepy little tourist town is going to make the national news. A 60 year old homeless man walked into the Denny's where we've eaten a dozen times and began killing people. Two men were killed, one right in front of his granddaughter, and a married couple were wounded. Then the gunman turned his gun on himself. This kind of mindless violence is unfortunately not rare, but in Pismo Beach? In our Denny's? Our quiet little getaway became Baghdad for a day. No place is safe.
There is no safe place in this world. No matter how sleepy and off the beaten path, no place is completely safe. No matter how well we take care of ourselves, our health is never safe. No matter how hard we try to raise our kids right, they will never be completely safe. Our marriages, jobs, relationships and our very lives are never really safe. The only safe place is in God. Paul said, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:33). Faith does not keep the bad things from happening, but it does keep the bad things from destroying us. When our lives are hidden with Him, then Christ become sour life (see Col 3:34). and then nothing can harm us... ultimately. David says this in Psalm 31:7-8 (NLT)--
I am overcome with joy because of your unfailing love,
for you have seen my troubles,
and you care about the anguish of my soul.
You have not handed me over to my enemy
but have set me in a safe place.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
A couple of things hit me as I was filling out the sheet. First, I doubt that I would have a much better winning percentage if it was last year’s brackets I was filling out. I do seem to remember that North Carolina won, but aside from that, last year's results are pretty much a fog. The spotlight will be focused on college hoops over the next several weeks, but in the end what will it matter? A lot of things that seem to matter an awful lot right now don’t really matter at all. My old Greek teacher used to say, “If something won’t matter in a million years, then it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Of course, he usually said that after I complained about a grade.
Second, these brackets would be a lot easier to fill out if I could read the sports section of the newspaper three weeks from now. What makes predicting the future so hard is that it hasn’t happed yet. (If I’m getting too profound for you, please let me know and I’ll slow down). One team will get hot at the right time, raise the level of its play and have its stars shine through for “one shining moment.” And that’s why they will win the tournament. The hard part is knowing which team will do that. In the contest that really matters, that between good and evil, we already know who will win. John wrote in Revelation about the forces of evil aligned against the Lamb. He wrote in Revelation 17:14—
Filling at the brackets for the ultimate battle between good and evil is
They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.
easy. The Lamb will overcome… and so will we if we remain faithful to
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Well, for those in the TurboTax generation who like to do-it-yourself, there is a new trend that makes things really easy of you aren’t getting along with your spouse. The trend is do-it-yourself divorce software. Google reports dozens of web-based or software-assisted divorce option. These allow people to get friendly, non-contested divorces with a minimal investment of in time and money. A story in the AP reported that it took only 20 minutes, $400 dollars and a couple of months to get a divorce in New York using the tools at one web site! Why waste any more time or energy in dissolving a marriage? An article on one of these web sites suggests this—“Divorce and alimony should be like MacDonald's or Wal-Mart – reliable, standardized, predictable and consistent.”
That’s the world we live in, isn’t it? But that is not suppose to be the church we live in! we realize that we live in a fallen world as broken people, and the happily-ever-after we desire isn’t always our reality. But for ones who have committed their lives to God, His word thunders through the centuries from Malachi 2:16—
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
Divorce breaks faith with the spouse who we pledged to “love, honor and cherish until death do us part.” God says through Malachi, “you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Mal 2:14). But Malachi goes to say, “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his…” (Mal 2:15). To break faith with our spouse is to break faith with God himself. No, divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Yes, the church should open its arms to minister to those who have gone through (and are going through) divorces. But we also need to be clear on what it is that God wants. He still hates divorce… He always will.
- One man was late because his son started kindergarten.
- Another man stopped on the way because it was his turn to bring the donuts.
- One woman was late because her alarm clock didn't go off in time.
- One man was stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.
- Several of those present had simply missed his bus.
- One woman spilled food on her clothes and had to change.
- One man’s car wouldn't start; another went back to answer the telephone.
- One woman had a child that dawdled and missed the school bus.
- One man wore new shoes, got a blister and stopped to buy Band-Aids.
All of these people are alive today because of little things. Many of these are the same ordinary little things that can cause us such stress in our every day life. Now I’m not sure that I would argue that all of these (or maybe any these were) the direct intervention of God. But I do believe that God can use the little things in our lives to bless us… and strengthen us. Maybe there are more sacred things happening in our lives every day than we realize. When you get stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, turn back to answer a ringing telephone that turns out to be a telemarketer… remember that God can be at work in the little things.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
As conversations continued over the next months, Sacks kept hearing about Jimmie brother who was in accounting school and who was engaged to some girl from Oregon. Of course, his brother had been married and been an accountant for over thirty years. Jimmie had no memory of the last 30 minutes or the last thirty years. For all practical purposes, the clock of his life had stopped in 1943. And Dr. Sacks couldn't help wondering if this “lost mariner,” as he called him, was really a full person. “Is this man’s essence gone?” he asked. “Does he even have a soul?" Then one day Sacks saw Jimmie C. in chapel during a worship service… and came to see him in a whole new light.
I was moved, profoundly moved and impressed, because I saw here an intensity and steadiness of attention and concentration that I had never seen before… Fully, intensely, quietly in the quietude of absolute concentration and attention, he entered and partook of the Holy Communion. He was wholly held, absorbed, by a feeling. There was no forgetting, no Korsakoff’s then, nor did it seem possible or imaginable that there should be; for he was no longer at the mercy of a faulty and fallible mechanism— that of mean¬ingless sequences and memory traces— but was absorbed in an act, an act of his whole being, which carried feeling and meaning in an organic continuity and unity, a continuity and unity so seamless it could not permit any break. Clearly Jimmie found himself, found continuity and reality, in the absoluteness of spiritual atten¬tion and act.Do we not share something in common with Jimmy C. here? We live in a world that distracts us and distorts our memory of what is really important. We live our lives at such breakneck speed that we lose sight of the pursuit of God. And then each week we come together for worship… and our memory is restored. In the act of worship we are reminded of what is truly true and really real. In worship, the secular gives way to the sacred, and the human makes connection with the divine once again. Worship focuses our lives and reorders our priorities. It is in our connection with God through worship that we remember what it is to truly be human.
Friday, March 10, 2006
At the same time this was happening, a bank was being robbed in Williston, North Dakota. A man named Ryan Wright was wearing a ski mask when walked into the bank and demanded money. When the terrified tellers began to comply with his demands, he told them that he was “just kidding.”
I don’t think that the “Hey, I was just kidding” defense is going to work in either of these cases. My girls would sometimes try to cover a sassy remark with “I’m just kidding.” It didn’t work for them either. I don’t think it is any accident that those involved on both crimes were drunk at the time. But you know, just like alcohol lowers the inhibitions and leads us to bad behavior, sometimes trying to be funny does the same thing. I know that I have cross the line and said things that were hurtful because I was trying to make a joke. And I’ve been stung by the attempts at levity by others. Hey, this wasn’t exactly robbing a bank or burning down a church, but efforts at humor can cause pain nonetheless.
The Bible wants us to take seriously the power of our words. Our language can be a fire that destroys others (James 3:6, Prov 16:27). Paul warns us to guard against unwholesome talk and to speak words that build each other up (Eph 4:29). Later he says “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Eph 5:4). Jesus says that we one day will have to give an account of every careless word (Matt 12:26). Maybe “I was just joking” makes about as much sense to God as an excuse for us hurting others with our words as it does as an excuse for burning down church buildings and robbing banks.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Several years ago, a new preacher moved to a new town. One day he rode the bus from his home and discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change. He debated with himself what he should do; after all, it was just a quarter. When his stop came, he paused at the door and then handed the quarter to the driver, "You gave me too much change." The driver smiled, "Aren't you the new preacher in town? I have been thinking lately about going to worship somewhere. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I'll see you at church Sunday" When the preacher stepped off of the bus, he prayed, "Oh God, I almost sold your Son for a quarter."Cheesy preacher story? Yes, but a reminder of an important truth. Today someone is going to test your commitment to your Christian faith. Oh, they may not do it intentionally like this bus driver. But they are going to say or do something that will put your faith commitment on the line. It may be a slow and inept cashier. It may be an annoying co-worker who is more in your business than in their own. It may be a neighbor who has a really short fuse. Whoever it is, they will test your commitment to live out your faith in Jesus. They will test how seriously you take following the Christ. If we are not careful, we may find ourselves selling our Lord for a quarter... or less.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
But as good as they were, the cookies themselves were not what stands out for me. As I was enjoying the smell of baking cookies wafting throughout the house, the aroma triggered a flashback. For just a split second, I heard little giggling voices, the sounds of feet running through the house, and little girls begging to eat the cookie dough before it was baked. The smell of cookies present triggered memories of cookies past… and just for a second the house seemed rather empty. Why can such pleasant memories make you sad at the same time!
Bob Hope used to sing, “Thanks for the memories.” Pleasant memories of the past are important, and they have made Kodak a lot of money. But we need to realize is that today, the present, right now-- we are making memories for our future. The only way we can have pleasant memories one day in the future is by living life to its fullest right now. Solomon said, “Don’t long for ‘the good old days,’ for you don’t know whether they were any better than today.” (Eccl 7:10, NLT). What are you going to do today? Why not make some cookies… and some memories?
Thursday, March 02, 2006
As he was beginning to eat, a group of prostitutes entered the diner and sat at the counter, trapping Compolo among them. One of the prostitutes mentioned to her friend that the next day was her birthday. Her friend said cynically, “Why are you telling me? Do you want a party and cake; is that what you want?” The first prostitute, named Agnes, said, “Why do you have to be so nasty? I was just telling you. No, I don't expect a cake and a party; I've never have had a birthday cake in my life!” There was something about this woman that touched Compolo. After they left, he asked Harry if these girls came in every night. When he found out that they did, Compolo and Harry decided to give Agnes a party. Harry did the cake, Compolo did the decorations and Harry's wife got the word out.
The next morning at 3:15 there were crepe-paper decorations, a huge birthday cake and about thirty prostitutes and street people in the diner. When Agnes walked in, everybody yelled “Surprise” and they sang happy birthday. Agnes almost collapsed, and she began to cry uncontrollably. She was at her very first birthday party, and the party was for her! She didn't even want to cut the cake; she took it back to her apartment so she could look at it for a couple of days.
After Agnes left to take her cake home, something just prompted Compolo to say, “What do you say; let's have a prayer for Agnes.” It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. After the prayer, Harry said, “Hey, you didn't tell us you were a preacher. Why kind of church do you belong to anyway?” In one of those flashes of inspiration where you to say exactly the right thing at the right time, Compolo answered, “I belong to a church that throws parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning!” But it was Harry who told the punch line to this story; he said, “No you don't. There are no churches like that. If there was, I'd join. I’d want to be a part of a church like that!” You know, who wouldn't?
Who was it with whom Jesus spent his time? Why was Jesus criticized by the religious establishment in Luke 15:2? He ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus wasn’t refined or discriminating enough in his selection of companions. He threw parties for prostitutes (metaphorically if not literally). Has the church become too refined and sophisticated to walk where Jesus walked? Maybe we need to throw a few more parties for people who have never been to the party.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
My upbringing in churches of Christ was somewhat less than liturgical. Not only was the observing of special days not practiced, doing so was generally condemned. So we generally have a hard time relating to the power of formal ritual. And in doing so, I think our anti-tradition tradition has hurt us.
I know someone will object “But the Bible never says (i.e. authorizes) to observe special days.” No, and it never says (authorizes) have an invitation song either. That is our traditional (ritual) way of publicly offering people a chance to respond to Christ. Have traditions that help us focus on the things of God are good. So having a special day to stress corporate repentance and make a public commitment to that repentance cannot be a bad thing. Have a special season each year to fast, give up unnecessary material things and focus on necessary spiritual things cannot be a bad thing.
Part of the Ash Wednesday tradition are these words spoken as the ashes are applied, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” We do need to be reminded of that, don’t we? And we need to live like we believe that it is true.