Thursday, September 28, 2006
What saved Roy was a neighbor who came by to borrow a Phillips screwdriver. He sensed something was wrong, and started asking Roy some questions. And they started talking. Roy poured out his heart to this neighbor who simply listened, asked some questions, and offered no advice. He then invited Roy out to dinner, and they talked some more. When Roy got home, he unloaded his revolver and started down the road to recovery.
What Roy needed was not sanctimonious platitudes about God. He didn’t just need to read more and prayer harder. What Roy needed was to share his life with a friend. He needed people in his life. God was able to work through the listening ear of Roy’s neighbor in a way that was powerful. God moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes He works through our life circumstances. Sometimes He parts the Rea Sea. But often, He works through people and relationships.
If we are not working to deepen the relationships in our lives, then we may be limiting what God wants to do in us. Church is not a place to go, but a community of which to a part. One of the things we do at Denbigh to encourage relationship building is our Body Life small groups. And coincidently, our newest cycle of groups will begin Sunday. If you have not already taken the plunge to get involved in one of these, why not give it a try?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The basic movement of the gospel is clear (Phil. 2:5ff): self-denial and self-sacrifice rather than self-fulfillment. We follow one who had no place to lay his head, who warned us that life does not consist in the abundance of things, who told a wealthy man to sell all and give to the poor, who insisted that we cannot have two masters (God and $$). Followers of Christ in other cultures have often lost all as a result of their faithfulness to him.
But walk into Christian bookstores and there is a different gospel. The gospel of Joel Osteen.
And does it sell! Your Best Life Now has sold over 4 million copies. It finds a welcome audience in the consumerism of America. The authors of the article write:
“What remains is a materialism framed in a kind of Tony Robbins positivism. No one exemplifies this better than Osteen, who ran his father’s television-production department until John died in 1999. ‘Joel has learned from his dad, but he has toned it back and tapped into basic, everday folks’ ways of talking,’ says Ben Phillips, a theology professor at the Soutwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. That language is reflected in Your Best Life Now, an extraordinarily accessible exhortation to this-world empowerment through God. ‘To live your best life now,’ it opens, to see ‘your business taking off. See your marriage restored. See your family prospering. See your dreams come to pass . . .’ you must ’start looking through the eyes of faith.’ Jesus is front and center but not his Crucifixion, Resurrection or Atonement.”
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Our projector finally got so dim that even I noticed it, so I ordered a new replacement bulb over the internet from Bulb and Battery Center in Mableton, GA. They had our particular battery as their "featured special" (if you call a $350 bulb "special"). You never really know how legitimate a place is after they turn up on Google, but I ordered the bulb and put it on the credit card and forgot about it. When it came in and I unboxed it, I left the invoice on Cathy’s desk and forgot about that too. Steve, being his usual efficient treasurer self, found the invoice, thought it was a bill and paid it. So we bought the same $350 bulb twice (which makes it less of a deal). Before Cathy called to try to straighten out the problem, I said jokingly, “I guess we’ll find out how legitimate this place is, huh?” Well, she never made the call. That day we received our check back in the mail, already voided out. I now have the business card for Bulb and Battery Center in my desk drawer; we’ll order from them again. Treat people right and they know that you are legitmate.
So, are we legitimate? Do we live our daily lives in such a way that we legitimize our faith? Do people at work, at school, and in our neighborhoods take God seriously because of the way they see us living? Paul says, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1). He tells the Thessalonians, “Live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thess 2:12). He tells us to live in such a way we “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10). What do people see in us? Do we treat others with such dignity, sincerity and courtesy that they respect our faith and our God? Do we legitimize what we claim about faith by the way we live? If you treat people right, then they will know that you are legitimate.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Yesterday was a wonderful day of praise; I truly felt God’s presence in our worship. Now understand that is a statement about me, not about God. Our God is not a genie in a bottle that we can summon to our side if we do worship just right. God is just as much present among us when our singing drags, the sermon is a bit stale and our prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling. But sometimes the act of worship touches us in such a special way so that we become more aware of His presence. Moses asked Israel, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deut 4:7). God was near to His people, but they needed to be reminded of that.
Worship should always reminds us of the presence of God. The words of our songs and prayers, the teaching of scripture, the symbolism of communion all point us to God being near. But sometimes any of that or all of that touches our emotions in such a way that we feel His presence more powerfully. Indeed, we serve a God who is so near to us. I am so grateful that my church and worship can touch me in ways that allows me to feel and experience that nearness so powerfully.
Friday, September 22, 2006
What hurts the worst is not the monetary loss ($250) or the sense of violation or the fact that I was about 3/4 the way through the new Tess Gerritsen audiobook. No, what really hurts the most is that Lynn had just said not long ago, “Someone’s going to steal that thing!” Hey, the KEY was in the car; why didn’t they take the whole car and leave me the iPod? Answer: They WANTED the iPod!
My first reaction when I realized it had actually been taken was, “Hope they choke on it!” Aside from this being logistically unlikely, that was not a very good line of thought or attitude. So I changed both. My new attitude and line of thinking is this— my iPod is filled with Christian music (Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Hallal, Zoe, and three or four WOW and WOW worship albums) and even has a copy of the audiobook Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. Maybe they will listen to what is on the iPod before they sell or hock it and learn something. Maybe they needed my iPod more than I needed it? I hope they enjoy it… I really do.
Just in case you are wondering, my lunch hour today will be spent at Best Buy looking at iPods Maybe I can’t do too much about being clueless, but I won’t be tuneless for long!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
When my generation was growing up in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, we knew exactly what to expect when we went to church. My town had perhaps a dozen expressions of the Church universal, each carrying forward its own traditions of thinking, speaking and doing. And if people from our town visited a church of their own variety somewhere else, they could anticipate in advance what they would find when they arrived. My group thought it was the only one that did things right, but most other Christian groups probably thought at some level that their ways were also best.
Today, to put it mildly, things are different. It is not uncommon now to see as many independent or nondenominational churches as churches with the old brand names. Also common are what I jokingly call "stealth churches" -- congregations affiliated with traditional denominations or fellowships which omit that association from their name. Within five miles of my house are
"stealth churches" that are really Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran. Other churches use a location or community name, disclosing an affiliation in smaller print on a second line. It is not uncommon to hear people say, in all varieties of churches, "I think of myself as a Christian who happens to attend such-and-such church."
Things really get exciting when one moves about. Within my own tradition (non-instrumental Churches of Christ), one finds most churches singing without accompaniment but some that use instruments now and then. Most of our congregations still limit public functions (leading singing, praying, serving Communion, ushering, passing offering baskets) to the males but a growing number of churches make no distinction between men and women. Some use a song leader;
others feature a praise team. Some celebrate Christmas and Easter while many others do not. Many have fellowship halls, family centers or multipurpose facilities but a minority avoids them all. The issues vary with other denominations but the diversity is clearly present in most Christian groups.
One finds many different attitudes toward change. Any church usually contains an element of people who not only prefer the familiar old ways but believe that anything else is wrong. Another group seems to think that anything is better than what has always been. A larger group -- who perhaps did not grow up within the particular Christian tradition -- doesn't care either way and cannot quite understand what the fuss is all about. Meanwhile those charged with responsibility for leading the church try to balance old and new, to do the most good and the least harm, and to maintain unity while promoting progress.
If you would like to read the rest of the series, you can find it at his web site. Edward is one of those guys who began his spiritual journey with a very narrow spectrum of our very narrow fellowship. His walk with God has brought him among believers of all stripes, and his has been one of the clearest, gentlest and most relentless voices calling us to a wider fellowship within the kingdom of God.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Well, I doubt that there will ever be an empirical, scientific study that demonstrates the power of prayer. Prayer is just not so tidy and neat that we can demonstrate its power with surveys or point to it at the bottom of a test tube. Yes, we can share stories in which prayer seemed to be so powerful. But face it, even those stories don’t really “prove” prayer, do they. People do get well on their own, right? And we can all also tells stories in which we prayed for a healing that definitely did not take place.
Should it surprise us that scientific studies have difficulty with prayer? The scientific method is limited to the five senses; prayer inhabits the larger world of faith and God. James assures that the power of prayer is to be found beyond the world of the empirical. After telling us to pray to God when we lack wisdom and assuring us that God answers prayer, James says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.” Petterson’s The Message puts James 1:5-8 like this—
Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.
The power of prayer is faith. There will be times when we will prayers for things that we will not receive—sicknesses that are not healed, marriages that are not saved, jobs that are not found, babies that are not conceived, churches that are not renewed. Our job is not to understand unanswered prayer; our job is to “have faith and do not doubt” (Matt 21:21). Ultimately God’s promise in prayer is to give you “what you need” (Matt 6:8). The power of prayer is the faith that assures us that He knows that need better than do we.
Monday, September 18, 2006
It was also good to spend time with Mark Pugh yesterday. Mark was in the area attending his 36th high school reunion at Denbigh High School. Mark is a good friend who preaches in Corpus Christi, Texas, and we enjoy getting together at Pepperdine every year for pie and coffee. Mark is a great preacher, and he graciously volunteered to preach in my absence. And it was even better that I came back a day early and was here top hear him and eat lunch with him. The only problem was that he insisted on showing the picture at right, a 1967 shot from dear old Camp Idlewild. From left to right (back row), Sonny Respess (Clarita Gay’s brother), Greg Hammer, (front row), Tommy Dossett, Bobby Dossett, The Unknown Camper (can anyone help identify him?), me (the one with the gangsta sneer going on) and Robert Pugh (Mark’s middle brother, now deceased). We are a bunch of cool dudes, aren’t we?
My original plan was to stay over thr weekend in Nashville with my sister and go to church with her at Otter Creek (I’ve not yet see their new building), but we decided to come home. When you get right down to it, there is no place that I would rather worship than right here with my Denbigh family. And especially throw in some good preaching, and why would I want to go anywhere else? It’s good to be home.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Whoever reads the Qur’an and memorizes it, while he regards what it makes lawful as lawful and unlawful as forbidden [practices what it says], Allah will admit him into Jannah [heaven] and will accept his intercession on behalf of ten such persons of his family who were doomed to the fire of Jahannum [hell].So you get a free ticket to heaven (and out of hell) because your kid memorizes the Koran? I guess that encourages parents to stand over the little tykes and “encourage” them to stick to their studies! We may want to dismiss such a belief as ridiculous, and rightly so. But Muslims believe that the Koran is the word of God and that God's word is something good to know. So they read and even memorize it. Does that really sound so silly?
How about us? Do we believe the Bible is God’s inspired word? How do we show that? Do we read it to find what it is that God wants us to know? Do we teach our kids the Bible and give them a thirst for its truth? Is it possible that Muslims may live more consistently with what they believe about their book than many Christians live consistently with what we say we believe about ours? This is something we may need to think about.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Now I’m not the most organized guy in the world, but I do like a little planning and preparation when it comes to Sunday morning. Unfortunately the sermon I finished writing late Thursday afternoon was still in my inoperable computer in my dark office. So Saturday I threw something together, had Roger pick some other songs (the old ones went with the sermon I couldn’t get to), and we prepared to do church in the dark with Coleman lanterns crammed in the family room. (Neither our auditorium not our family room have any windows, so “in the dark” is no exaggeration). We pulled the pin on Sunday School and got ready to do church like we did when without power for 8-9 days during Hurricane Isabel. But the power came on around 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night. Roger and I came in early enough on Sunday mroning (after saying that we wouldn’t) to have time to throw together a bulletin and PowerPoint slides for church. Worship probably came across much as usual... except the praise team got the week off and I probably used Greek works like “ahhh” and “ummm…” a whole lot more thn usual as I tried to think of something to say next.
There are a lot of things that we connect to church that seem like part of church. The list of these things could go on forever—church buildings, Sunday school, order of worship, four-part harmony, fellowship dinners, adult Bible classes, committees, Sunday night and mid-week services, full-time paid staff, pitch-pipes, communion trays, invitation songs, announcements, and PowerPoint slides (ask angelynn how often she remembers doing church without “singing off the wall”). What if you went to church where they had NONE of those things? Would you even feel like you had been to church?
Church is not about HOW we do things when we are together. Church is about worshipping and serving God, focusing on what God did through Jesus at the cross, and what God does in us through the Spirit that calls us to holiness and service. And it is about how we love and support one another as we focus on all those things together. The way that we do those things matters a lot more to us than they do to God. Sometimes maybe we need something to blow some of those tools-traditions-techniques around a bit so that we can more clearly focus on the heart of the matter.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Then we went to our supper cookout at Bob and Kate Looney’s house. This was more of a young adult gathering (except for the preachers)… so everyone here was much better behaved. The topic of conversation revolved around dachshunds— there were 4 of them at the party, though at times it seemed more like 40 running around! I just think those little wiener dogs are so cute, don’t you? The highlight of the party was when everyone pointed at Kate and were just sure that they saw the baby move through her shirt; Kate missed it, but everyone else saw it. I didn't— I was watching the game on ESPN on the big screen TV in High Def. There was also the pool table, a game of dominoes... at least, I was told that there was! I was watching the game on ESPN on the big screen TV in High Def!
I think it is important for a church family to really enjoy being with one another. Yesterday reminded me that we have a great group of people that do just that. The Westminster Shorter Catechism suggests that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” He wants us to enjoy one another as well.
BTW, Tank Daniels made the Philadephia Eages practice squad. That means that he is on the team but will be inactive for games right now. I think that will change. The Eagles are carrying only six active linebackers on their main squad, so I think it is only a matter of time before they activate Tank. Anyway, congratulations, Tank!
Friday, September 01, 2006
Sitting in a darkened house with the wind blowing and sheets of rain falling outside bring back memories of Hurricane Isabel. This little storm is nowhere near the same as Isabel, but the experience was enough to serve as a reminder. Most of us went for a week and a half without power, lost (or had to eat in a hurry) all our frozen food, had to wait in huge lines for gas, and had to put up with a great deal of inconvenience. Of course, we didn’t have long to tell our Isabel stories; Katrina and the suffering that went with her battered the Gulf Coast and made what we went through seem like a party.
In fact, in some ways it was a party. I have good memories of Isabel. Having church in the dark using handwritten sermon notes and no PowerPoint. Cooking everything from coffee to frozen casseroles on the gas grill. Reading by Coleman lantern light. And working hard together as a church to process and give away three tractor-trailer trucks worth of food and supplies to people in out area as we worked with Church of Christ Disaster Relief. So our little storm outside today brings back some good memories.
It also is a reminder of the continued suffering brought about by Katrina and two other hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast almost exactly one year ago. Let’s continue to pray for those whose lives still aren’t the same today.