The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El, Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty – those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves – the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
A quote from Gene Carlson in the article caught my attention. Carlson was senior pastor for 40 years of the 7000 member Westlink Christian Church. He was very involved in "the Christian Right," leading abortion protests and raising money. Though he still believes that abortion is evil, Carlson has had second thought about his political activism which he says “didn’t really change abortion.” Working to elect Christian politicians never seemed to make any difference in the end. Here was his observation that stopped me, “When you mix politics and religion you get politics.” And maybe that means in the end a Chrisatian politician is a politician?
Christianity was born in a totalitarian dictatorship in which politics was for the powerful and individual rights did not exist. For the most part, those with political power and influence were the enemy of God’s people and truth. James reminded his audience that it was the rich and powerful who were exploiting them and slandering the name of Christ (James 2:6-7). Later he condemns the wealthy ruling class who have hoarded wealth and exploited the powerless (James 5:1-6). Christians were to pray for leaders... so they could be left alone to live in peace (1 Tim 2:1-2). Are the political power structures of our world part of what Paul meant by “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil?” Is it the case that when the church joins these power structures, even for good and noble purposes, that we run the risk of being twisted by them? Lord Acton’s famous line is, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t vote on moral issues. I’m not saying that Christians should never run for public office or get involved in political causes. This world needs the leavening influence of godly people in all spheres of life! But I am suggesting that the answer to the problems of this world is the message of the cross, not any political party or candidate or agenda. We will do more to change the woes of this world by sharing the story of Jesus and living out its implications in our own lives than by our political affiliations. Who we vote for is always optional; who we live for is not!
Friday, October 26, 2007
- How many Christian counselors does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb has to WANT to change.
- How many preachers does it take to change a light bulb?
One. He holds the bulb while the world revolves around him.
- How many TV evangelists does it take to change a light bulb?
One. But for the light to continue, send in your donation now!
- How many theologians does it take to change a light bulb?
Three, but they're really one…no, it's three.
- How many elders does it take to change a light bulb?
CHANGE?? That bulb doesn’t need changing.
Personal change is even more unsettling. When it comes to things like doing a better job at controlling our temper, finally kicking the nicotine habit, doing better with diet or exercise or spending more time reading the Bible, we often want to hide behind excuse like “I can’t help it” or “Hey, that is just the way that I am.” Or if we try to sound more pious, we may say, “That’s just not my spiritual gift.” But changing and being changed is one of the fundamental truths of Christianity. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:3). He said, “Unless you are converted and become like children” (Matt 18:3, NAS). The idea behind “repent” and “convert” are the same-- change.
My reading this morning was from Jeremiah 35. Here God uses the example of the Recabites to spur and motivate unfaithful Judah. The Recabites were a nomadic clan that descended Jonadab, who charged his family to not drink wine or live in houses. They had followed that charge. The Recabites followed their ancestors command, but Judah would not follow God (Jer 35:13-14). Here is the part of the reading that stuck from this morning—“Each of you must stop doing evil. You must change and be good. Do not follow other gods to serve them. If you obey me, you will live in the land I have given to you and your ancestors.” (35:15, NCV). That is how God sums up the message of the prophets to Judah—“Stop doing evil… change and be good.”
Sounds pretty simple. The message of the prophets was “change.” We must forever remain clay that is soft and malleable; we must be wineskins that can expand and stretch. Change is rarely pleasant. But it is what God constantly calls us to do.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Of course, nature isn’t only culprit here. Rampant development in areas that were never intended to support so many people often provide both the kindling and the spark that begin these fires. More and more homes are built on the edges of what was wilderness; one estimate is that more than 50% of the new housing built in California since 1950 has been built inside severe-fire zones. And not only do more people live where they are affected by the fires, but they also cause (usualy inadvertently, sometimes intentionally) many of the fires. And then there is the irony that after the fires have burned so much of the vegetation, when the rains do finally come, they will likely bring mudslides that can be as destructive as the fires.
Few places on earth are a beautiful most of the time as Southern California. And that has been the problem over the last half century. More people have migrated there than the land can support. And when nature rebels at the intrusion as it is this week, so many people are affected. Let’s continue to pray for the people out there. Let’s also pray for those who are helping and gearing up to help with the relief effort. Though they have don’t have any specific information yet on their web site (their latest web update was in June), I just have to believe that the folks at Churches of Christ Disaster Relief are gearing up and that the trucks will be rolling out of Nashville before the ashes are cool
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I was reminded of a passage from Ecclesiastes while I was working yesterday. Not just the “vanity of vanities” part, but I was specifically thinking of Solomon’s setup in Ecclesiastes 1:3-8a--
3 What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north;
round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say.
He could have just as easily said, “The grass that is cut grows back again; the thatch that is de-thatched becomes thatch once more.” That kinda sounds Solomonic, doesn’t it?
How much of our daily work sounds just like this? The project we complete is simply swapped out for another project; the briefing we present is replaced by another. The house that we clean becomes messy again; the meals we prepare must be prepared again tomorrow. What is the point of doing all of these things that are done but are never really done?
Solomon’s point is that nothing means anything “under the sun.” What gives meaning to life is what comes from the other side of the sun. Nothing ultimately has a point in life unless you understanding the God that reigns over all of life. The mundane and ordinary things of life are infused with meaning because of the God that gives meaning. So Ecclesiastes can say this in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.
Even the mundane and ordinary things of life are giving meaning because they are gifts of God and ways that that He blesses and teaches us. While the grass that I plant and cut and plant again seem like mundane vanity, the fact that all is done under the rule and domain of God changes everything. “Everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” (Ecc; 3:14). God reigns in the mundane things of life, and because He reigns, even the mundane things are blessings form God.
Friday, October 19, 2007
But what looks like integrity isn't always real integrity. Chuck Swindoll, in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life, tells this story about integrity that is really not integrity at all.
Several years ago, in Long Beach, California, a fellow went into a fried chicken place and bought a couple of chicken dinners for himself and his date late one afternoon. The young woman at the counter inadvertently gave him the proceeds from the day-a whole bag of money (much of it cash) instead of fried chicken. After driving to their picnic site, the two of them sat down to open the meal and enjoy some chicken together. They discovered a whole lot more than chicken--over $800! But he was unusual. He quickly put the money back in the bag. They got back into the car and drove all the way back. Mr. Clean got out, walked in, and became an instant hero. By then the manager was frantic. The guy with the bag of money looked the manager in the eye and said, "I want you to know I came by to get a couple of chicken dinners and wound up with all this money. Here." Well, the manager was thrilled to death. He said, "Oh, great, let me call the newspaper. I'm gonna have your picture put in the local newspaper. You're the most honest man I've heard of." To which they guy quickly responded, "Oh no, no, don't do that!" Then he leaned closer and whispered, "You see, the woman I'm with is not my wife...she's uh, somebody else's wife."
God calls us to be complete, whole people. That is only true when we seek to what is right no matter the setting or situation.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
It’s easy to see other people’s hypocrisy, isn’t it? Does it make sense to be so concerned that you make curfew that you drive 100 miles an hour? Not much? How about the Pharisees who so used tithing as an excuse not to care for their aging parents (Mk 7:9-13). Some Jewish women today believe that modesty dictates that their head be covered in public, and they do that by wearing wigs made of human hair and costing thousands of dollars! I heard about one big-hearted guy who robbed a local business because he wanted to give some money to a local charity (maybe he though he was Robin Hood?). Yes, it is easy to see inconsistencies and hypocrisies in others.
But those puppies are a bit harder to spot in our own lives, aren’t they? Robert Burns’ famous poem “Ode to a Louse” ends with the line “O would some Power, the gift to give us, To see ourselves as others see us!” Indeed, it is easy to be blind to our own warts and flaws. I am sure that the Priest and Levite felt completely high and holy when they passed by on the other side and didn’t help the wounded man. Hey, maybe they were on their way to church and didn’t want to be late! But how much harder it is to see when we are the Priest or the Levite! Let’s do a better job straining out the camels in our own lives, then maybe the gnats (or lice) of others will take care of themselves.
Let’s do a better job straining out the camels in our own lives, then maybe the gnats (or lice) of others will take care of themselves.
Monday, October 15, 2007
By a wide margin, the highest grossing motion picture of all time is Titanic. Well, that makes sense. It is really two movies in one— a love story sandwiched wrapped inside a disaster flick, which makes it the perfect date movie. It is the story of Jack, a fun-loving, self-absorbed penniless artist and Rose, a sad, suicidal socialite being forced to marry a man she did not love. These two people are about as different as night and day, but the boy from steerage accidentally meets the girl from the first class, and they fall immediately and deeply in love. Unfortunately, they don’t live happily ever after; this is after all the Titanic. During the sinking of the great ship, Jack dies so that Rose can live.
Marc Newman uses the movie Titanic to make a point to college students about the nature of true love. The question Newman asks his students to debate in class is this— “Given what we know of Jack’s character, do you think that he and Rose would have had a successful marriage?” After all, their love story didn’t really even get started before it was ended in the great disaster. Would their marriage have worked, or would it have been a disaster. Newman writes—
When push came to shove, Jack was able to make the single grand gesture to the beautiful woman, and give his life that Rose might have a chance to live. But could Jack, would Jack, have married Rose? And if so, could he have put up with the daily self-denials that are required to maintain a marriage over fifty years, when his lover is no longer young and nubile? G.K. Chesterton commented that many people say that they will do anything for love, except sacrifice for it.
Is it possible that dying for the one you love in a blaze of glory is not nearly as difficult as living and sacrificing for them daily? I think Newman is on to something there. Living for someone in a daily sacrifice of love and self-denial is much harder than a single gesture. Maybe that explains why so many people are giving up on their marriages these days. Maybe that explains why so many people are giving up on living for God.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Here’s the point. Yesterday my New Testament reading was from Colossians 1. Today my Old Testament reading was from Jeremiah 7. That is what has never happened before (that I can recall). Last night, the text for my Wednesday night class was Colossians 1. Today I’ll finish writing my sermon for Sunday, and the text is Jeremiah 7. Both my study texts for the week in my sermon and class study were covered in my devotional reading. That might not sound earth shaking to you, but it has never happened before. I have no point to make here—just that this was highly unusual.
If I tried real hard, I could probably find some parallels in the two passages. Jeremiah warns
I could find more parallels like that, but I don’t have the time. I have to go write a sermon on Jeremiah 7.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
And sometimes the transition from “Men’s Business Meeting” to eldership is problematic… and traumatic. Very often men who are influential leaders in the Men's Business Meeting model are not Biblically qualified to serve as elders. That means that as the congregation transitions to the Biblical model of elders, these men must to some extent to give up power and influence. Sometime they aren’t willing to do that, and they oppose the move to appointing elders. This can be further complicated when these non-elders have served as trustees, which is required by the state for non-profit organizations owning property.
Several says ago, Alan Smith emailed me a new item (under the subject line "So Sad") that tells of a church in
I wonder if at some point someone thought about what Paul wrote about Christians and property issues in 1 Corinthians 6:1, “If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?” Having one Christian standing in court against another Christian only serves to advertise to the world that Christianity doesn’t really work. We are supposed to proclaiming a message of eternal salvation and peace that passes understanding… and we sue each other over property? Paul says, “If you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!” Even the simplest and least prominent Christian is better to mediate property disputes among Christians than Judge Judy. Paul says this—
7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. (1 Corinthians 6:7-8)
OK, it’s human nature-- We want to be right. The only thing better than being right is to have the courts tell us we are right and then enforce the rights we have because we are right! Paul says that when we get to that point, we have already lost.
Here's the annoying part. I need to be as disgusted with myself about my infernal need to be night as I am with churches in far away places. It fact, it is much more important that is challenge my own pride issues. It's just not as fun.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Oh, I get the part about the richness of our cappella tradition. And I get the part about the beauty of human voices blending together in harmony. I can’t do it, but I do get it. (Wasn’t harmony made up about the same time and by the same people who made up the instruments in the church thing? Wouldn’t singing in unison be more theologically significant than 4-part harmonies going off in different directions at once? But then I digress.) And I get the part about the danger of turning participatory worship into a presentation or entertainment where the audience becomes only casual observer. (Though the temptation to “show off’ for the benefit of others is just as real for the guy singing tenor as for soloist or guy playing acoustic guitar). And I do get the beauty and simplicity of a cappella, congregational worship. As one of the praise songs that we sing begins, “There’s no place else that I’d rather be…” I have zero desire to change our a cappella worship music tradition. Zero as it none!
But what I do not get is the idea that heaven and hell rests on whether or not you get why you shouldn't use instruments. There are 17 verses in the New Testament that mention singing. Five of those are from Revelation (like the faithful holding harps of God and singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, Rev 15:2). Five are quotations from the Old Testament. Most of the rest simply say that someone (Jesus and the disciples, Paul and Silas, etc.) sang. There are no examples of singing in a church worship setting, except for 1 Corinthians 14:26, which sounds more like someone presenting a song solo, not congregational singing. The two texts we discuss the most (Eph 5:19 and
Even if I'm right in deciding that a cappella singing best fits the New Testament data (and I always think I’m right), can’t I at least admit that there really is a bit ambiguity here? Can’t I be comfortable in the choice that I make each Sunday while respecting brothers and sisters down the street who make a different choices? But since the data is ambiguous, should we not take the safest choice and sing sans the piano? Maybe. Or maybe we should say, “You know, there is ambiguity in what the New Testament says about church music, so let’s go back and see what clues God gives us about praise in the Old Testament.”
I don’t want to change our church music. I think there needs to be an a cappella music tradition in the
I met last night with a couple who are placing membership with us. They came to us from a background that uses instruments. They said that they had some reservations about coming to a church that doesn’t have music because they really enjoy that, but then said, “I was ashamed that I had worried about that because the singing here is so beautiful and worshipful.” That's the point, right? At that moment my phone rang—my ring-tone is the chorus of Philip, Craig and Dean’s worship anthem, “You are God alone. From before time began You are on Your throne. You are God alone.” That’s is the point, isn't it?
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The Northgate company died, and so when my Northgate keyboard also died, I was stuck with a rubber band keyboard. I have tried several after-market keyboards looking for one that I can type on... OK, so the problem may be with me.. But the mushy keyboards they sell these days just don’t work— even with all their multimedia and wireless bells and whistles. I just want a heavy duty, mechanical click keyboard made of metal the way they did in the good old days of the IBM PC
There is a lesson here in miniature, I think. How often have we bought into Satan's lie that things in life will be much better when I get a new thing… a new job, a new car, a new house, a new keyboard. Hey, I’m not saying that I was waiting for this keyboard to make my life more fulfilled, but that would make just as much sense as looking to those other things, right? We have proved this truth to ourselves time and time again-- new stuff has an incredibly short shelf-life as far as its ability to satisfy us. If we are made happy by the new stuff, the fact is that what is new today is old next week, and so we’re right back in the hunt looking for something new. No matter how great a “thing” might be, the one thing it cannot do is stay new! Well, i
Well, it cost me $70 bucks, but I found one. It seems that a company called Unicomp obtained the rights to the old IBM keyboards from Lexmark, and they are still making them today. You can buy 15 year old IBM keyboards for $150 or more (no kidding), but Unicomp will make you a brand new one in a variety of layouts in any color you like (as long as it is black or white). They even have one with the Control key back beside the “A” key so if I want to go back to using WordStar (if I could find a copy of WordStar) and its old control diamond, I can do that (actually the keyboard is made for Linux users). The keyboard is great, it makes typing much more precise for me, and now all is well with the world. That is, until
The only thing that never gets old is contentment. Paul says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim 6:6). He also said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:12-13). Notice that the “I can do all things through Christ” comes right after “I have learned the secret of being content.” Content is not our natural or normal state as human beings. It came only when Paul trusted in Christ and looked to Him.
This really is a great keyboard. But you know, I bet voice recognition software would be even better!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007