Sunday, April 30, 2006
We made it to Pismo Beach early Saturday afternoon. After walking on the beach and making two (!) runs to Wal-Mart and having lunch at our favorite out-of-the-way vacation eatery (Denny’s), we went on to our room in Avila Beach (2 exits down 101 from Pismo Beach). Lynn found one of those deals in the back of a coupon book, and it looks like it is really going to be a geat deal! Instead of a hotel, we’re tucked snuggly into a resort condo with an ocean view (if you hang precariously off the balcony). But its really nice and really cheap (think Hilton accommodations at Motel 6 prices). So far we have been able to duck the nice person who wants to give us the timeshare tour!
We went to church at the Grace Bible Church, the same non-denominational congregation we worshipped with last year. Like last year, we were surprised with how comfortable we were worshipping there even though much of it was on the surface quite different. Just to make me feel comfortable, they sang “God of Wonders,” one of my favorite worship songs and one we sing at Denbigh (some would say too much). Sure, the praise band was a “little” different from what I’m used to, but they did their best to stay out of the way so that God could stay at the center. The service lasted an hour and a half (thirty minutes of praise and worship with an hour of preaching). The sermon was “a bit” longer than we are used to, but it was right out of the text of John. (There is a reason they call themselves a Bible Church). The preacher had some great things to say about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit—things that you could hear me preach at Denbigh (except it would be a three part series). We enjoyed the worship and study, and it made us look forward even more to the spiritual feast that awaits us at Pepperdine.
So if our vacation is so great, then what am I doing writing a blog? Lynn finished up a class she is taking for work right before we left. Well, she thought she finished. Her teacher evidently did not receive her last submission online, so she has to redo it. Since we have to pay for the wireless access anyway, I thought I’d go ahead and keep you informed as to how things are going! So… things are going great! I might check back again before we return to Denbigh… or I might not.
Friday, April 28, 2006
The two parts of the trip could not be more dissimilar. At Pismo Beach, we sleep in every morning, getting up just in to eat, walk on the beach, and then doze by the pool. What do we do with the rest of the day? That is the WHOLE day! Oh, there is the requisite trip to Wal-Mart to get stuff I should have packed and forgot. And then there is the day at the Outlet Mall where we look at everything and buy nothing. Normally, neither of us would enjoy wasting time like that. But spending time together like that is the whole point of this part of the trip.
At Pepperdine, our schedule is a bit different. The lectures start on Tuesday evening and run through Friday evening. The first session begins at 7:30 a.m. and the last one ends at 10:00 p.m. Sometimes we will take a session off sometime during the day to catch our breath, but there have been years we have not missed a single session. We experience some of the best preaching and a cappella praise and worship in our brotherhood. The hard part is deciding where to go. (Lynn has gone over the lectureship program so many times she just about has it memorized!) I know that part of the allure of Pepperdine is the same as that of Pismo Beach—it is something that Lynn and I both love and can share together. But it is more. It’s a time to recharge our batteries, to hear fresh perspectives and to gain new insights. It’s a place (for me, anyway) where worship and preaching can happen without me doing anything at all except show up. It’s a time to meet God in a renewed way so that, with my bucket filled, I can come back home and share the overflow.
Well, we are leaving in a couple of hours… so I guess I really need to start packing! Check back next week and see if I figured out how to blog from California... or if I decided that I wanted to mess with it!
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Bibles are indeed valuable. I don’t guess I fully appreciated that until I went to Ukraine in 1993 on a mission trip. We lugged several dozen cases of Ukrainian New Testaments across the busiest part of Kiev attracting a bit of attention. It would be hard for a group of foreigners carrying cases of books across the busiest intersection in the city to be inconspicuous. We set up shop on the steps of the Kiev circus, an ideal location across from a Metro stop and several bus stops. It was lunch time, and many people had converged on the very spot we had selected to buy their tickets for the evening performance of the circus. We opened several of the cases, held one in our hand, and in our very best Ukrainian said, “Biblia, pezhalusta.” And in ten minutes, all 2000 Bibles were gone! The next year in Zhitomir, the reaction was the same. Our translator climbed on top of a car to get away from the crush of the crowd!
Do we really treasure the word of God like that… or do we take it for granted? We live in an age that has access to the word of God as never before. How many Bibles do you have in your house? I counted the Bibles in my office, and I have 20 English Bibles (not counting the 12 or so I have on the computer). Some of these are pretty worn-out and ratty, but I’m not going to throw them away. Nope, I learned my lesson there. No matter how worn out it is, you never always hang on to a Bible… because it is God's word.
Did you know that 300 years ago people were burned at the stake for having English Bibles. William Tyndale was executed for making the Bible available in the language of his people. Copies of an a slightly later version of the English Bible known as the Bishops Bible were literally chained to the pulpits of the churches so that people could not take them home! Bibles are valuable.
Of course, the question isn’t really “How many Bibles do you have?” The real question is, “Do you read the Bible?” Do we really appreciate our privilege of possessing and knowing God's word? What is our attitude toward that word? Has the Bible become for us a rather impressive looking book that you put up on the shelf, a book in which to record family information like weddings and funerals? Or do we realize to truth that so many people died for-- the Bible is the word of God, the central truth around which all life must revolve. We don’t really show how much we value the Bible by where we display it or how we hang onto it. We show that we value the Bible by reading it and living it.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Second, last month I wrote in this blog about the acceptance of profanity being tied to those who are offended never making their feelings felt ("Words Will Never Harm Us," March 29). Little did I expect someone to take me up on it! Betty Tanner shares the following experience--
Last Friday I was out to eat with friends and this man was there ranting and raving about his service (or lack of it) and using really FOUL language. Well, I had to ask the Father for the courage to speak up. This place was FULL of people, but I went up to him and asked him to please not use that language. He said he was sorry, but he was mad that he wasn't getting the service he thought he should get. I said that I understood, but this was not the place for that kind of language-- it was embarrassing his wife and me and he needed to tone it down. He said he was sorry again. They waited for their meal and left. Actually, I think the wife left first.
He was so mad I thought he would lay into me, but I stood on your message to let him know that his language was not appropriate there. And it worked! Upon leaving I went to the manager and cashier to tell them what a great job they were doing, they had just opened and still training the staff; but I have been there 3 times in 2 weeks and thought they were doing a great job.
Obviously, Betty was trusting in a power much great that my little blog article! Thanks, Betty, for being willing to practice what I preach! Christianity gets messy when you take it outside the safe walls of the church building and live it in out the marketplace. I just have to think that this guy will be a little more thoughtful the next time he has to express his displeasure in public. If so, then the world is that much better because of Betty's willingness to act.
Monday, April 24, 2006
- “Looking back on our years together, I can't help but wonder.... What was I thinking?!”
- “I've always wanted to have someone to hold, someone to love....After having met you, I've changed my mind.”
- “I'm so miserable without you... It's almost like you're here.”
- “You are such a friend that if we were on a sinking ship and there was only one life vest... I'd miss you heaps and think of you often.”
1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
David is overwhelmed by this thought. And you begin to get the impression that the thought is more than just a little bit intimidating. There is no way to hide; there is nowhere to go to get away from God
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
But ultimately David finds the thought comforting. He knows that God understands him completely. Others can see our words and actions and misinterpret what we really meant to do or say, but not God. He looks beyond our external words and actions all the way to the deepest desires of our hearts. And David ultimately takes comfort in that fact.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
There is no doubt that God knows you from the inside out. He knows your every intent and motive-- not just what you do. He knows how you feel and what you mean-- not just what you say. God knows you. Is that a reason for comfort or for concern
Friday, April 21, 2006
Maybe we could stand a few more “amens” around here. After all, “amen” is most likely the most common word in human language. That is because it was transliterated from the Hebrew into Greek, and then into Latin and most other languages. If you are listening to someone pray in a foreign language, you will likely know when they are done because you will hear “amen.”
The word come from the Hebrew (aman), which means "believe" or "faithful." It is an expression of trust. “Amen at the end of a prayer doesn’t mean “the end” or even just “I agree with you.” It really means “and so it will be!” It is an expression of trust. English versions of the New Testament often translate “amen” as "verily" or "truly" when it is not used in prayer. One of Jesus’ favorite expressions is, “Verily, verily” (KJV). This expression rather like that of Beretta on the old TV show, “And you can take that to the bank.” That’s why it is spoken at the end of prayers. That’s why it is spoken at the end of doxology, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Rom 11:36)
I think we do need a few more “amens” around here. I’m not talking about while I’m preaching (although I’ll take that when I can get it). I’m talking about our faith— we need more “amens” in our lives. “Amen” is a title that is used for Jesus in Revelation 3:14, “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” We can know that His Word is faithful and true, and we need to live like we know that it is true. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 1:20-22-
20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.The Corinthians had problems and struggles, and they needed an “Amen!” We have problems and struggles too-- and we need an “Amen.” His word is always to be trusted. When He speaks, you can take it to the bank. We need to live our lives confident of God's "Yes!" spoken over us.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
How much time do we spend in our lives pursuing things that ultimately don’t matter? How much of our time and energy is spent in the pursuit of things that really, at the end of the day, don’t bring us the happiness or satisfaction that we expected? Sure, Hollywood is an artificial world filled with both glitter (shallow promises of fame and fortune) and darkness (sinister things that can sidetrack and destroy). But then, the world that you and I live in is filled with that same glitter and darkness, isn’t it? What is it that really matters in our lives? What is it that we trust to bring us happiness and meaning? Delores Hart left a world of make believe for a world of faith. That is the call of Christ to each of us each day!
Wednesday, April 19, 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. Let me read you the observation of this doctor who witnessed the transformation of worship:
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 meaningless 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 attention 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 a breakneck pace 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. 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.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
OK. Now flash back years ago. One of our members called me very upset and asking to be added to the prayer list because their dog had just died. Well, I think that I said all the right things and treated her grief appropriately, but it wasn’t easy for me. I was thinking, “Hey this is only a dog; let’s get a grip here.” I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand how completely a pet can become part of your life and your family. I didn’t appreciate how a pet’s love for and dependence on you can be reflected back to the point where it is you who loves and depends on them. I understand now. I'm still not a pet lover. (We had lunch at the Timms yesterday, and there were 3 hyper dachshunds running around and the word "cute" never came to my mind even once). But there is one pet I do love.
This is something of an object lesson for life. We can’t fully appreciate the struggles and difficulties of others because we don’t fully share their life experiences. And maybe we have a tendency to downplay the feelings and thoughts of others because we can’t relate to them. Paul calls the church in Rome to live together as a spiritual family that supports one another. He says—
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:15-16)
The church in Rome struggled because their life experiences were so different. The thoughts, feelings and assumptions of those who had grown up as Roman pagans were very different from those who came to Christian faith as Jews. Those differences were seen in different ideas about observing holy days, eating meats offered to idols and drinking wine (see Romans 14). Paul calls them to love and support one another as a Christian family even when they can’t understand each other’s perspectives.
Maggie is going to be fine. Her biggest problem this morning is that she can’t eat before her procedure this afternoon! As I left her this morning (with a puzzled look at me and then at her dish), I couldn’t help but wonder. Wouldn’t we be better at being a church if we would all just get a dog?
Friday, April 14, 2006
But is it the case that Christians really are a persecuted minority? Expectedly, guys like Jay Leno and Bill Maher have had fun lampooning that suggestion. Others have suggested, perhaps rightly, that using the word “persecution” in the context of the culture wars, is a disservice to martyrs of the past and present who have indeed paid for their faith with their lives or freedom. One Christian professor said that this skirmish over religious pluralism shows a “spoiled-brat response by Christians who have always enjoyed the privilege of being a majority position.”
You know, he may be right. We are blessed to live in a country where we can participate in self government. We can vote and us our vote to reflect our values of faith and morality. And it is true that many of the principles behind the foundation of our country were informed by Christian faith. But it has never been true that we were a “Christian nation.” Christianity by its very nature is counter-cultural. The call of Christ is to transcend the values of the culture to seek the kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount, at least in part, is counter-cultural to the focus of the American dream. The call of the cross is counter-cultural to the American emphasis on person liberty and freedom. In order to follow the Christ, we must follow Him outside the camp of culture. The Hebrew writer says, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:13-14)
In his Attack on Christendom, Kierkegaard suggests, "If everyone is a Christian, then no one is a Christian." If Christianity fits seamlessly into the culture in which he live, then likely it is not really Christianity. Is there a war on Christianity today? Sure. There always has been! Sometimes Satan’s real attack is in getting us to think that faith should easily fit into our world.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
For centuries Christians in many parts of the world have greeted each other on Easter morning with the joyful declaration “He is risen!” To which the person greeted has responded “He is risen indeed!” What does it mean, I ask myself, that Jesus is risen from the dead? Far more than I can state in these few paragraphs, but at least this much for starters.
Jesus’ resurrection from among the dead tells me that he is who he claimed to be – the unique Son of God sent down from heaven to rescue us from sin and to set right this world that had gone astray. Men accused and executed Jesus for civil treason and religious blasphemy, but God vindicated him by raising him to life again. Because God raised Jesus, we know that that Jesus’ self-sacrifice removed the hostility between God and sinful humans. God has accepted us, forgiven our wrongs and now invites us to accept our acceptance. Through the life of the risen Jesus, we are empowered to quit the sins from which we have been acquitted and to live a life pleasing to God.
Because Jesus arose from the dead, death is no longer the end of our story, no longer the end of the human story. Jesus was faithful to God throughout his life and God was faithful to Jesus even in death. Light has pierced darkness, life has vanquished death, acquittal has reversed condemnation. Because Jesus lives, so do we – already in a new quality of life that we call “eternal,” one day in new bodies created to live forever. Because Jesus arose, the graveyard has a new name. No longer is it the “necropolis” (city of the dead); now it is the “cemetery” (sleeping
Because Jesus rose from the dead, the end of the old world has begun and a new creation has started to emerge, One day Jesus will return, the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and God will join us in new heavens and new earth. Although we will be transformed, we will still be ourselves. Similarly, God will redeem this universe. He will make “all things new,” not all
Because Jesus is risen, it is already the time for God’s name to be hallowed, his kingdom to become apparent, his will to be done – all of this on earth just as it is already in heaven. Our calling is clear, our hope is secure, our destiny is certain. “Therefore be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
Copyright 2006 by Edward Fudge.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Sunday is Easter. This is the traditional time to remember in a special way the resurrection of Christ. Granted, all sorts of traditions not associated with the Bible story have found their way into the observance of Easter. (You are not going to find anything in your concordance about bunnies and colored eggs). Not coming from a church tradition that really observes Easter as a religious festival, I was always a bit confused about WHEN Easter took place. I imagine that people who come from a tradition in which Easter is observed are a bit confused about that as well. It seems that Easter comes at different and even random times each spring. I thought the following excerpt from an article by Steven L. Ware in Christianity Today might help those who may be wondering about the date of Easter.
The question of the proper date for Easter—the most important festival on the Christian calendar—is another of those fascinating and complicated odysseys in the history of Christianity. It begins at the Council of Nicea in 325, where, after settling the Arian controversy, bishops debated the correct formula for determining the date of Easter. The Eastern bishops (those from Eastern Europe and western
Asia) preferred scheduling Easter in conjunction with the Jewish Passover celebration, because the Gospels place the death and resurrection of Jesus during that time. Also, since most Eastern Christians had come from Jewish roots, this practice gave them continuity with past traditions. The Western bishops, however, disagreed with the Eastern practice, because few Jews lived in their regions. They favored a date in conjunction with the solar beginning of spring, which was the time of many pagan celebrations.
The Nicene Council itself did not resolve the matter, other than stipulating that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday. Shortly after the council, however, Emperor Constantine sent a letter to all Christian leaders not present at council encouraging a uniform celebration of Easter that ignored the Jewish calendar, since Jews had largely rejected Christ. No formula for determining the date of Easter was universally accepted in the West until, under the influence of the Venerable Bede (c.673-735), the method of Dionysius Exiguus (c.500-550) was widely adopted. This system scheduled Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Linking the schedule of Easter to the beginning of spring didn't completely solve the problem, however, because the Julian calendar, in use from the Roman era until the late sixteenth century, had a small flaw: its solar year of 365 and one-fourth days was 11 minutes, 17 and one-half seconds too long. This seemingly tiny error adds up to slightly more than three days in the span of 400 years. That is why, despite learned astronomers' best calculations, the church found its Easter calendar in need of adjustment on a regular basis. That is also why, when the calendar was reformed under the approval of Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582, it was necessary to eliminate ten entire days to correct the error (the day after October 4 was declared to be October 15).
Even with the Gregorian Reform, the date for Easter can vary widely, since it is still partly dependent on lunar cycles. The advantage of the Gregorian Reform, especially after it was adopted in
in 1752, was that it facilitated an accurate and uniform celebration of Easter across the entire West. Occasionally, the Western celebration of Easter even coincides with the Eastern Orthodox date. (Their Easter is still calculated by the Julian calendar, and their calculation of the paschal full moon is five days later than the astronomical full moon—thus the Eastern and Western dates can vary by as much as five weeks.) England
OK, so now we all know when Easter will be each year! Am I the only one who thinks it would have been easier just to keep Passover and Easter linked?
But why is there a day called Easter? Yes, Easter was one of those pagan holidays that early Christians appropriated and linked to the resurrection. No, Easter does not appear in the Bible (unless you use the KJV and don't realize that Acts 12:4 incorrectly translates the Greek word pascha (passover) as "Easter." And no, we are not told to observe Easter as a special holiday. But then we are not told to have VBS each summer, gospel meetings each fall and special themes on Mother's Day or Memorial Day. Like all these things, Easter is a tradition (and one that has been around for a very long time). Traditions are not bad... they are unavoidable!
Traditions can be repeated so often that they become part of the way that we do church. That is OK as long as we don't bind them on others or allow the purpose of the tradition to become lost. Some churches have been building toward Easter through the forty days of Lent. Other churches won't do anything Sunday to mark it as Easter... except that their kids will be dressed up in new outfits and OD'd on chocolate eggs and marshmallow peeps! At Denbigh, we will split the difference-- our service will revolve around the resurrection (songs, texts, and the sermon), and we will supply the chocolate and marshmallows in our (traditional) Easter egg hunt.
What is important is not the specific choice we make about what to do about special church days. What is important is that we honor God with our choices. That is Paul's point in Romans 14. We're not faithful because we are so Biblical that we refrain from observing Easter. We are not faithful because we are so enlightened that we can observe Easter and still be biblical. We are faithful because whatever decision we make is made simply to honor God.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
It occurred to me that everybody really gets to that point in their lives at one time or another when we have to realize that we have got to go on. And if God gives us breath to live today, that we are here for a reason and that God's not through with us.That experience reminded him of the words Mordecai spoke to Esther in Esther 4, and he wrote a song entitled "For Such a Time as This." These words remind us all that God is waiting to use us to accomplish things that we may not have never imagined.
Now, all I have is now; To be faithful, to be holy,
And to shine, lighting up the darkness right now
I really have no choice but to voice the truth to the nations;
A generation looking for God.
For such a time as this I was placed upon the earth,
To hear the voice of God, and do His will, whatever it is
For such a time as this, for now and all the days he gives
I am here, I am here, and I am His for such a time as this.
What is it that God has for you to do today? What has be brought you right her and right now to accomplish? What is the darkness into which He has brought you here to shine his light? How can you be that voice of truth to the nations? You are here-- are you His?
Monday, April 10, 2006
It is true that there is a document known as “The Gospel of Judas” was found in the late 1970’s and that has fairly recently been presented to the world. This document was “authenticated” only in the sense that it was dated in antiquity-- at or about the fourth century. That means that it isn’t a recently-forged fraud. But that only means that it is an ancient fraud! This document has nothing to do with the Judas of the New Testament. The “Gospel of Judas” is one of many documents written by Gnostics in an attempt to shore up their heretical claims. In fact, the particular Gnostic group that produced this book was the Cainite Gnostics, called that because of their peculiar habit of rehabilitating disgraced biblical figures such as Cain, the Sodomites, and, yes, Judas Iscariot.
While the discovery of this document will provide resources for understanding second and third century Gnosticism, it certainly provides no threat for the Christian faith. The book was a fraud that was written long after Judas committed suicide. It was written to promote the heresy of Gnosticism that denied the central teachings of the Christian faith—the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. An illustration of that fact can be seen in one excerpt where Jesus tells Judas that he must betray him, “You will exceed all of them for you will have sacrificed the man that clothes me.” Gnostics believed that Christ had “possessed” the body of the man Jesus and that Christ did not die on the cross or raise from the dead. Thus the “Gospel of Judas” is no gospel at all. In fact, it cuts the heart out of the gospel.
I have heard it suggested that the release of the book and television special so near Easter was an attempt to undermine the Christian faith. (Did anyone record the TV show? I missed it because, as my daughters like to point out, we don’t have cable.) I am not much of a conspiracy theorist; I don’t know if the timing was sinister. I tend to think it has more to do with the upcoming release of the movie based on Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code which is all about alternative views of scripture and the church’s cover-up of the truth. It is easy to see Dan Brown's bank account and want in on some of that!
Anyway, don’t fret that you going to have to buy a new Bible that includes the Gospel of Judas. There nothing there that has anything to do with Jesus.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Nof used records of the Mediterranean Sea's surface temperatures and statistical models to examine the dynamics of the Sea of Galilee. He found that a period of cooler temperatures between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago could have included the decades in which Jesus lived. He suggests that it was possible for ice thick enough to support a man to form on the surface of the freshwater lake while being impossible for distant observers see. Nof said, “If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don't. Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don't know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it."
“I might not be a smart man,” to quote Forrest Gump; I am certainly no Ph.D. in oceanography. But this doesn’t take a rocket scientist. If the intelligence behind the Bible is truly God, then it is a simple matter for Jesus to walk on the water or Moses to part the Red Sea (and Nof has a theory on that one too, but then I digress). If the God who spoke the universe into existence inspired the Bible, then miracles are quite simply God suspending the natural order that He Himself created. But if there has to be some natural explanation behind every Biblical miracle, then what does that have to say about the power of the God behind the book? If God is God, then walking on water really doesn’t present much of a challenge!
I am reminded of that old song by a folk group ironically named Ocean. It reminds us that the basis of being transformed by the word of Christ is in fact the person of Christ. because He is the man who stilled the water, He is also the God who stills the soul--
Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself and you can look at others differently
So put your hand in the hand of the man from Gallilee.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Tressa called me upset the other day. She had been unable to sleep and caught the Nancy Grace show on CNN. Grace was interviewing my former professor Rubel Shelly and the question was, “Is the church of Christ a cult?” Grace really didn’t want to learn anything from Rubel; she barely even let him talk. After reading the transcript of the show, I think Rubel did about as well as he could given the stacked deck. This line of questioning was generated by the previous night’s show in which grace interviewed (in a much more civil way) a Baptist pastor named Tom Rukala. Here’s a portion of that interview--
RUKALA: Well, the Church of Christ is a relatively new church. It was started about 150 years ago by Alexander Campbell. And it’s, unfortunately, a very legalistic sect, and they tend to use methods of intimidation and pressure tactics. They claim that they are the only ones going to heaven, and all other people are condemned to hell… They claim that if you’re not baptized by one of their ministers, that you’re doomed to hell, even if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, which, of course, breaks completely from the traditional Christian view that all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved because we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again. For the Church of Christ folks, that’s not enough. You have to be a member of their narrow sect. It’s a very exclusive group. And if you’re not a member of their sect, you’re condemned.
GRACE: You know, Pastor, you keep saying “sect.” “Sect.” You make it sound
like a cult.
RUKALA: It kind of is a borderline cult, unfortunately. I don’t want to make it out to be some kind of Hare Krishna group, but it has cult-like characteristics and...
GRACE: In what sense?
RUKALA: Well, in the sense of the exclusivism, the attitude that they are the only ones who know the truth. The tactics that they use are sometimes just -- not only un-biblical but unethical, and they can be very ungracious, unfortunately.
It can be eye-opening and a bit distressing to hear yourself characterized through the eyes of others. Rukaka's characterization is certainly not accurate for all Churches of Christ; it is not accurate for me or for my church. Unfortunately, he is right on the money for many churches among us. There is a legalistic and exclusivistic strand that is woven through our heritage. It is time to put that behind us and get back to being what we once were—a unity movement.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk— you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice— you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, what a country!
We are indeed an instant culture. Joan Rivers says that Americans are the only people who stand in front of the microwave yelling, “Hurry!” We want everything right now; we don’t like to wait.
I fear that this is a barrier to our understanding and practice of the Christian faith. We want there to be a kind of instant Christianity. We learn a little about Jesus, add a little water (the water is very important, right?) and we become a Christian. We have a need in our life and add a little prayer—and then are confused when results are not instantaneous. It is almost as if we see God as a spiritual vending machine in which we pop in a prayer and out pops a blessing. We come to church and add a few worship and praise songs, and out is supposed to pop an instant intimacy with God.
Oh, we can have intimacy with God. Prayer works. We can learn of Jesus, be baptized and begin a life of discipleship. But the operative word here is “begin.” The Christian life is often one of struggle and difficulty. It is a life in which pat answers often do not work. Just when we think we have God all figured out, He breaks out of our box and leads us off in a totally different direction. Sometimes faith is quiet and calm; at other times is desperate. Jesus said that “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matt 11:12). Whether this intriguing text means that the forceful must seize the kingdom or that the violent will attack it, the point is that the kingdom is no Sunday stroll with Jesus. True discipleship is not instant spirituality that fits easily within the existing framework of our lives. It is a continual and daily following of Jesus even when he leads us where we do not want to go. And He always leads us in the carrying of a cross.
Monday, April 03, 2006
I goofed off again last night as our guest speaker was Rick Atchley of the Richland Hills church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. OK, so we really watched Rick on a DVD, but it was great nonetheless. It get an email bulletin called “Reflections” every week or so from Al Maxey, a preacher in Alamogordo, New Mexico. If you haven’t seen any of Al’s “Reflections” articles, you need to check out his web site. Al fell all over himself recommending a sermon by Rick Atchley entitled “Learning Division” as both an explanation and response to some of our struggles for unity and with disunity over the years. So I decided to invest $5… and it was the best $5 I’ve ever spent! If you weren’t able to be here Sunday night, you need to get this DVD. You can borrow the one from here (I’m waiting to hear from Richland Hills if it’s OK to make copies) or order straight from Richland Hills.
Is it possible for us to remain faithful to our Church of Christ heritage while at the same time pursuing and promoting unity among all believers in Christ? Can we maintain a firm grasp on who we are and have been as a distinct people while at the same time reaching out to fellowship others who also stand at the foot of the cross who have not stood in our specific camp? I think both our elder’s vision statement and Rick’s sermon last night showed us that this is indeed possible. Of course, the old saying is “the devil is always in the details.” But we need to see that in reality, the devil is really ignoring the call to unity even though the details at times can get messy!