Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I guess we mark this down as one of those “signs of the times.” Our post 9-11 world is a scary and dangerous place, and we appreciate the hyper-vigilance of those in charge of our safety, even if their vigilance sometimes appears to be a bit extreme. There are dangerous things out there, and the only way we can be safe is to always be on our watch.
Should that not be the case in our Christian lives? We live in times that are dangerous spiritually. Our world no longer really respects faith in Christ as being a "mainstream choice." Those who do choose to take the call of Jesus seriously will sometimes find themselves a bit out of step with the world around them. There was a time when almost everyone accepted homosexuality as wrong; now it is acceptable to most and almost fashionable to many. If you suggest that sexuality involves moral choices and consequences, many people look at you like you just landed from Mars. The world is constantly calling evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20), and we need to constantly be on watch again evil influences. Peter tells us, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT).
When you are watching for terrorism, you may indeed pull the pin on the emergency plan because someone left Sweet-N-Lo laying around. I wonder if that should not happen more in spiritual things. If we never ever raise any false alarms of spiritual danger in the world around us, perhaps we are not on high enough alert!
Monday, January 29, 2007
In Psalm 23, the picture of God as our good shepherd making us lie in green pastures and beside calm waters is a picture of a soul content in God. It is not easy for us to lie down and rest in God when we scurry around to collect materials things that ultimately can’t bring contentment.
12 When you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Both lessons reminded me that our lives must be centered in God and that often it is our pursuit of stuff that pushes us off center. I hope the lessons helped others as well.
But evidently, my subconscious mind just doesn't get it. Last night I had a vivid dream (one of those what seems real). I had just bought a new DVD-Recorder that played in both Blu-Ray and Hi-Def DVD formats (a machine which isn't even on the market yet). The problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to hook the thing into my TV. (That’s the part of the dream that was realistic). It is funny that I would have that dream right after two lessons on contentment and materialism. I guess that maybe deep down I just don’t get it yet.
Maybe deep down, none of us gets it yet. God gives us good things in the life to enjoy. He also gives us good things to share with others. It’s so easy for us to get so focused on the first that we have nothing left over for the second. The one thing that will keep us from seeing the kingdom of God clearly is focusing so intently on the kingdoms of this world.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Remember the story from Numbers 11 that tells of God care in providing for the needs of his people? God sent manna to feed them in the wilderness. Whatever this manna was, it was crushed into meal and baked into bread, and thus it was “bread from heaven” (Exo 16:4). It tasted like “wafers made from honey” (Exo 16:31) and “something made with olive oil” (Num 11:8). That doesn't sound too bad, but who wants to eat it all the time? I read somewhere that people who eat the exact same thing for breakfast and lunch every day are better at controlling their weight than people who eat different things. The reason is probably because you get bored and loose interest in eating. Israel said of their diet of manna, “We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna” (Num 11:6). So God sends a great wind that blows quail into the camp, and the Israelites are blessed with a feast of quail. God once again provides for His people.
Well, God does provide, not that is not this story. Not only is Moses completely frustrated by Israel’s complaint, God become angry. In the opening verses of Numbers 11, God destroyed part of the camp by fire because of their complaining, and now they are at it again. And here are the two verses that I never remember reading before; actually, I’m sure I’ve read them, but I don’t remember them really registering. The verses are Numbers 11:33-34 --
But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.Israel chokes on the quail as she suffers the effects of a severe plague! The point of the story of the quail is not God’s care and provision-- that is the story of the manna. This rather reminds us of what happens when we grumble and complain against God! Have you ever complained about what you have to eat? Or your job? Or your church? Hey, it is perfectly OK to complain TO GOD; that is called prayer (Psalm 64:1). But when we complain to others or when we fail to be thankful for all that God has given us—well, that seems to annoy God, doesn’t it.
Maybe we all need to read some of these old stories a little more closely.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Joseph was thrilled to be reunited with his family, but his brothers were somewhat less than thrilled. In fact, they were “terrified at his presence.” Joseph assured them that vengeance was not his agenda. Joseph’s faith in the workings of God shows itself in the way he responds to the fears of his brothers—
Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:5-7)
Joseph could see God’s hand working in his suffering to bring him to his lofty office so that he could save many lives. Joseph believed that "God sent me ahead" to prepare for the salvation of his family (the family that had abandoned him). Now that meant that he lost his family for many years, he suffered as a house slave in a foreign land, he was falsely accused by an evil woman, and he was sent to prison where he languished for many years. But Joseph saw all of that as the "hand of God" in preparing for the preservation of the clan of Jacob. Joseph was not seeking vengeance; he was seeking the hand of God! (Of course, the text does not tell us about the first meeting of the newly appointed Grand Vizier and Potipher’s wife, the lady that had him thrown into prison. I imagine that was an interesting reunion as well!)
Here’s the thought that hit me. If God used Joseph’s travails to prepare him to save Jacob’s family from the famine, why did not God just send a thunder-boomer or two to end the famine in the first place? God gives strength to those who suffer (see Psa 71:20), but would it not be easier for Him to just take away the suffering? Evidently not. That is what we want God to do when we suffer, and I'm sure that Joseph prayed many times for God to end his suffering. I rather doubt that Joseph ever prayed for God make him the Big Cheese over all Egypt. God does have a way of surpising us, but sometimes we have to suffer before we are surprised.
There is something we discover about God through difficulty and struggle that we just can’t learn any other way. That’s why James tells us to “consider it and pure joy” when we suffer trials, because in that suffering that we become “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Joseph’s travails taught him a perspective that showed him the hand of God in his life. That same hand of God is working on our lives in powerful ways. The question is whether or not we will see it and grow because of it.
Monday, January 22, 2007
It was good to have Duane Castille speak to our adult classes yesterday. Duane works with Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund. When Isabel hit our area in 2003, knocking out electricity for 95% of our area (which lasted for well over a week), CCDRF was there for us. They send three tractor-trailer trucks full of emergency supplies (and frozen zucchini) for us to distribute to our community. (Click here for a report of that 2003 effort). It was good to hear of all the things still going on with that work. In the last 15 months, Church of Christ Disaster Relief has responded to ongoing needs caused by Katrina and more recent disasters by sending almost $23 million dollars in aid—food, water, cleaning supplies, bedding, appliances, etc. This is a great work, and it was good to hear more about it yesterday. I hope we can more involved with them in the future... raising funds and helping others-- not going through another Isabel.
We also had a good crowd stay after church for our Missions Team potluck and report yesterday. We appreciate Dan, Cindy and Joan’s willing to go to Ukraine to help with the church in Zhitomir (and the new work beginning, with God’s help, in Rivna). We have been hearing reports like this one every year since our first trip in 1993, and it is important that we see the pictures and meet the people through these reports. And it was also good to have lunch together. Thanks to the mission committee for hosting this event.
Friday, January 19, 2007
With the schedule out, we Lynn will be spending hours from now until May pouring over the schedule and planning the week in great detail. There are 20 or so classes to choose from each hour, so you really do need to spend some time in planning. This year, the web site has an online lectureship planner. Just click the lectures you want to attend, and it will print your own private schedule for you. Lynn will like that. I usually wait until I get there and then go to whatever is in Smother’s Theater—they have the most comfortable seats!
If nothing else, Pepperdine has some of the most interesting titles for lessons. I’m sure the content is great too, but I’m going to steal just the titles! For example—a lesson on evangelism in the church called “Grace Anatomy.” Or a lecture on the Trinity entitled “MP3: Manifest Presence.” Or the lesson on courageous joy called “The Faith-Filled YET.” Or “The Wedding Planner” (the church as the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5). If the lectures are as good as the titles, it should be great.
Everyone should think about going. Sure, airfare is expensive, but it's only money. The room and meals for the week is only $128— pretty good for a room in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. OK, it’s only a dorm room… but its dorm room in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean! We’ve had several families from Denbigh go in the past (Randy and Better Tanner are going again this year). We oughta make this a Denbigh project one year.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
But while I've always known church to be important, I'm not sure that I've always understood why it is so important. For the longest time I saw going to church largely as my religious duty. I remember Grandmother referring to people who had stopped attending church as being “out of duty.” And I guess if were are “out of duty” when we miss church, then we must be “in duty” when we attend church. So I went to church every week; I did my duty
Well, at some point maybe I got the point. Church isn't about duty; it's about God. As the Psalmist says, “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.” (Psalm 92:1-2). Worship isn't about performing proscribed acts in precise ways, it is about meeting God. Church isn't about running the doctrine up the flag pole to salute it and feel holy; it is about falling at the feet of the Crucified One who makes us holy. Church isn't fulfilling a spiritual obligation; it is a precious gift that God gives to help prepare us for our true spiritual duty— living our lives for His glory. In worship, we come before God to be uplifted, challenged, taught and rebuked... all at the same time. In worship, we draw near to God as God draws near to us. In worship, the real world of the Spirit breaks into our world and draws into the presence of the Almighty. As Psalm 92 continues—
What is it that church is for us? Do we sing for joy ay the works of God's hands? Can we say along with the psalmist, "It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, Most High?" Or do we just show up to do our duty?
For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord;
I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
How great are your works, O Lord, how profound your thoughts!
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Yes, God blesses us in many ways every day, and we should see all the things we have as the blessings from the Father who knows how to give good gifts. And yes, God wants us to prosper spiritually and relationally, and He does want us to use our material blessings to bless others. But to suggest that our giving is a guarantee of a financial windfall twists the promises of scripture and plays to the lowest of all human motivators—greed. Psalm 24 does promise great blessings from God for those who seek him. But there are two differences here from what we often hear on TV. David says that it is holiness and righteous living that secures God's blessings— Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,God isn't just looking for our money; that would be too easy. God is first looking for our lives! Those who give Him their whole selves are the ones that He will bless. And the psalm also tells us what that blessing will be--
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.
Lift up your heads, O you gates;The blessing that God waits to give those who serve and obey Him is not houses and cars or never failing health. God does give those things, but He also sometimes allows us to suffer trials and struggles in order to make us stronger. No, the blessing that God gives those with holy hands and pure hearts is Himself. He comes into the hearts and lives of those who seek Him, and His presence transforms everything. Whether wealth or poverty, health or sickness, the King of glory rules in the lives of the faithful. His power is not limited by our portfolio; His sovereignty does not depend upon a medical chart. Who is the King of glory? The Lord is the King of glory!
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Last February, 86 evangelical leaders issued a call to action on the problem of global warming. While admitting that it too some convincing, they now accepted that that human-induced climate change is real. Christians need to be concerned because the impact of global warming would hit the poor the hardest, “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.” However, several prominent evangelicals urged the National Association of Evangelicals to avoid taking a similar position because many are still not convinced that global warming is real. (It would be hard to convince me of that after the last our recent string of 70 degree January days!).
There was a time when it seemed like many Christians (well, many Christians that I talked to, admittedly a small-subset) bought the Rush Limbaugh line that the environmentalist whackos and liberal scientific establishment had made up the whole hole-in-the-ozone think as a leftist plot to do away with aerosol spray cans and cheap automotive refrigerant. I think many of us have come to see the environment as a humanitarian issue and a stewardship issue rather than a plank in someone’s political agenda. As much as it seems to pain some to admit, Al Gore is not Chicken Little and the sky may really be falling.
By the way, I’ve already told Lynn that our next car is going to be a 2008 American-made hybrid—I say Ford Escape, she says we are buying another Ford. Of course, we won’t be able to buy it until 2018, so we have plenty of time for negotiation!
Friday, January 12, 2007
Starting a quarrel is easy... stopping one once it has begun is another matter. Disputes and debates can take on a life of their own once the match is lit. Solomon says that the best way to stop a quarrel is to not to have one in the first place. To use the words of that great theologian Barney Fife, "You've got to nip it in the bud!" But sometimes the bud refuses to be nipped. What do we do when the dam breaks and the flood of dispute begins its path of destruction? One thing we do is to remind ourselves that disputes, disharmony and wrangling over differences is outside the will of God. To love to quarrel is to love sin.
Gene Shelburne conducted a seminar for us a couple of years ago based on his excellent little book The Quest for Unity. To borrow a line from Jim McQuiggen, “Every Christian ought to be forced to read this book... if they want to!” One chapter describes the price Gene’s father paid because he dared to seek unity with brothers and sisters who many had dismissed as heretics. Powerful men made it their mission to discredit him. Lies were spread, churches were bullied into breaking all ties with him, and colleagues distanced themselves from him. His sin was to preach that Jesus intended for us to take his call to unity seriously. Shelburne points to an ugly truth—
Have you noticed that just about any great reconciler you can name in any era of the Christian faith has been heckled and hounded and harassed by the very people he is trying to unite? People who stand up for unity always seem to draw fire. Usually from their own people. They get “fragged” by their own troops, to borrow an ugly metaphor from Vietnam. (The Quest for Unity, page 54)Gene goes on to suggest that the best example of this truth is Paul. We recognize Paul as the most influential missionary that Christianity has known, but to many church leaders of his own day, Paul was seen as a dangerous false apostle. Some of his most damaging opposition wasn’t from the Jews or the Romans; it was from other Christians who opposed him. Why? Paul dared to preach unity between the Jewish and Gentile church. Unity is something that almost everyone says is important, but unity always becomes a very messy business when it comes down to the sacrifice, compromise and selflessness that is required for real unity to take place. As Shelburne points out and Paul models, it is easier for us to shoot the messenger than to take unity seriously.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
The story probably would have ended there except for that silly first amendment thing—the freedom of the press to get things all scrambled up. (Lisa, you’re not reading this, right?) The front page headline of the Nashville paper The Tennessean said, “Christians must ‘let go’ some beliefs for sake of peace.” This was attributed to Lipscomb Bible professor Lee Camp, and there was an immediate firestorm of controversy that charged the school with compromising Christian faith distinctives in an effort to be at peace with the non-Christian world. Several participants and attendees (some non-Christian) reported that The Tennessean article was inaccurate and did not reflect Camp’s speech or the purpose of the conference. The paper is sticking by its story. You can read a much fuller account at the Christian Chronicle.
I am not surprised by any of this. I am not surprised Lipscomb would host such a dialog. Wars all over the world are fueled by religious sectarian ignorance and misunderstanding, so it makes sense to discuss ways we, despite different convictions, can better understand and live in peace locally and globally. (Randy Lowry, the new president at Lipscomb, was the founder of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine, so this kind of thing would seem to be his bailiwick).
But I can also understand how the secular press would interpret such discussions as an offer to simply drop distinctive Christian beliefs. Let’s just pretend that there’s no difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims so that we can have peace. Why can’t we all just get along? If our distinctive beliefs are causing the problem, let’s pretend they don’t matter. Jesus, Muhammad, Moses—what’s the big deal? I can understand why a newspaper guy would hear that… despite the fact that nobody was saying it!
Christians are called to be absolutely and distinctively committed to faith in Jesus Christ. That commitment to Christ also mean we are to “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18). Learning to understand and respect non-Christians so as to live peacefully with them does not require that I give up my faith or accept their beliefs as equally true. Unless Christians are seen as seeking the ways of peace, how can others take us seriously as living as disciples of the Prince of Peace?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Sunday was also the first week of our new format. Of course, the new format is actually our old (pre-2003) format of Bible Classes first followed by the worship service. That just felt right to me-- teach the class, then preach and then go home. It is much harder to preach and then to spin back up to teach a class (or preach, teach, and preach again as we did before that). Of course, if (excuse me, WHEN) we add very many more, then we’ll need to go to something else! I wonder what that will be?
A couple of football (hey, it's that time of year) observations: The Eagles beat the Giants on a last second field goal, so Tank and buddies are still alive in the playoffs and will travel to New Orleans this weekend. I hope they win without the last second filed goal this time—I don’t need any more drama. Speaking of drama, there sure wasn’t any last night as the Florida Gators thoroughly thrashed, trashed and smashed Ohio state for the NCAA championship. Who would have seen that coming?
Now from the Grinch department: My Dad called yesterday to let me know they finally got the Christmas card I sent a week before Christmas. Well, they got the envelop anyway, in one of those clear plastic bags with a note from the postal service saying, “Sorry we mangled your mail, but here it is better late than never.” Not only was the card missing… the gift card I sent as a stocking-stuffer was missing too. So someone at the postal service is getting breakfast one me!
Friday, January 05, 2007
Speaking of football, Harding graduate Tank Daniels is now firmly entrenched on the Philadelphia Eagles... and the Eagles are now the hottest team in football. They are on a 5-game win streak (5-1 since Tank was activated) and will host the New York Giants on Sunday in the first round of the playoffs. Tank played much of the game last Sunday against the Falcons; the picture at right is Tank drawing a bead on Newport News native Mike Vick. Good luck to the Eagles Sunday... and watch for #50 to make some big plays!
Thursday, January 04, 2007
There is a time to analyze, to study, to reflect. There is also a time to respond, to move, to act. Mark's Gospel is intended for the second occasion. It is 65-67 A.D. Nero is Emperor in Rome. He has just beheaded Paul and crucified Peter upside down. Now he is unleashing a wave of lethal persecution against Jesus' followers in the imperial capital. Some he ties to stakes, drenches in oil and burns as human torches. Others he dresses in animal skins and exposes to killer beasts. Others he crucifies. Jesus' followers remember the master's challenge: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). They do not sit in a Bible class and theorize "What is my 'cross'"? For them, this is no metaphor. It is cold reality. The choice is clear. Jesus went to a Roman cross in obedience to God. Do I follow him or not?
Some observers say that more Christians died as martyrs during the 20th century than during all previous centuries combined. Today, in at least 40 countries around the world, believers in Jesus are actively persecuted for their faith. Most of us who live in the West have never experienced physical or financial hardship for following Jesus. It is too easy for us to forget or to remain ignorant about our sisters and brothers who do (Heb. 13:3). We cannot know what the future holds as the chilling glacier of post-Christian thinking continues to cover Europe, the U.K., North America and Australia/New Zealand. Already the center of Christianity has shifted to Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. Already the Koreans and Nigerians and Ugandans are sending missioners to the United States and England.
Whether we face physical persecution or not, the call of Jesus remains the same and it is unmistakably clear: "Follow me." Jesus does not say, "analyze me" or "explain me" but "follow me." He does not call us to build buildings or plan programs or attract audiences, but to follow him. This best happens with the support and comradeship of communities of faith but it ultimately happens individually, personally, one person at a time. Each morning we awaken we hear his call: "Follow me." Each hour we live we respond to his challenge: "Follow me."
Before Jesus calls his first apprentice, Levi, in Mark's Gospel, he has already been announcing the kingdom of God and calling his hearers to repent. He already has been healing and expelling demons. Already Jesus has been teaching with uncommon authority. He is not an ordinary man but the Son of God of Psalm 2:7, the apocalyptic Son of Man of Daniel 7 who will finally judge the world. His deeds match his words. He is what he says. His words therefore command our attention. His person compels our respect. Every minute we breathe, his call hangs in the air: "Follow me." How will we respond?
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Can you imagine our Congress drafting a resolution making Jesus the honorary “King of America?” Me either. (Of course, it would be nice if enough lawmakers-- and citizens for that matter-- felt that strongly about Jesus). Jesus is King, but He is King of a kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36). Jesus wasn’t telling Pilate that He was refusing to be King of Rome; He was saying that His kingdom is of a completely different plane of existence. Jesus is king of a spiritual kingdom that transcends the political boundaries and systems of this world order. His kingdom is opposed to this world and its “craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (1 John 2:16). Jesus says that the power exercised by the political entities that control the world are completely opposed to the way things work in the kingdom of God (Matt 20:25-28).
Sometimes we end up wanting the world to behave so that it is easier for us. So Christians exercise political power in an effort to put prayer back in school, return the ten commandments to being displayed in our courts, out law the practice of abortion, ban sex and violence from TV and video games, etc. (I've always wondered why the "family values" politicians haven't called for banning divorce as well). Don’t get me wrong, I usually (though not always) vote for people who stress those issues. I do think Christian people make better lawmakers than non-Christians; one who believes they are accountable to God at judgement makes them more careful than one who is only accountable to the electorate!
But we had better be careful that we don’t expect the world to make our faith easier and more mainstream. Christianity has always been a counter-culture that stands opposed to the world and points to the coming of a whole new world. We live out the values of the kingdom and call people to King Jesus regardless of what the power structure of this world says or does. Christians are not people who live where Jesus has been made King of their country. They are the people who have made Jesus king of their hearts and lives.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I was reminded of something while watching the Cotton Bowl which was broadcast on Fox with legendary broadcaster Pat Summerall doing the play-by-play. Granted, the game was a defensive struggle with Auburn beating Nebraska 17-14. And Summerall has always been a bit reserved and understated in his announcing (he used to work with John Madden who had enough enthusiasm for both). But Summerall seemed absolutely asleep at the mike yesterday. What could have been an exciting and close game became completely boring. When the first touchdown was scored (and there weren’t many), he announced it with a flat “there’s a touchdown.” No excitement. No college rah, rah. Nothing. It absolutely ruined the game for me. He didn’t seem to be excited about the game, so I wasn’t exited either.