Friday, November 30, 2007
I went by the new Lifeway Bookstore after lunch (used to Norfolk rather than 5 minutes from the house). I wanted to look for some Bible class literature... and pick up a copy of the new Casting Crowns album for Lynn’s birthday. Lifeway didn’t have it, so I went by Heaven and Earth on the way back to the office—they were out of it too. So I decided to download it for her. iTunes Store wouldn’t work for some reason, so I downloaded it from Walmart.com. To make the long story short, the DRM file got screwed up and Media Player crashed. After two hours and three downloads, I finally was able to burn a CD in time to rush out to get Lynn’s pizza and get home by 5:00 p.m.
So yesterday was not a productive day. What struck me as I meditated on that fact (OK, as I griped about it) is how much of the things we do every day are really not all that productive. Maybe it seems productive-- you paid all the bills, mowed the lawn, cooked several meals, washed the car, cleaned out all the gutters and got all your spring cleaning done. That would be a productive day, right? Except all that stuff will need doing again next week, next month, or next year. Isn’t that the point of Ecclesiastes 1:3-11?
So many of the things we do day-to-day aren’t all that productive when you look at eternity, right? We spend so much of our time on things that at the end of the day have no staying power. They aren’t ultimately productive. John says, “The world and everything that people want in it are passing away, but the person who does what God wants lives forever” (1 John 2:17, NCV). We need to be better at two things— (1) spending more time doing things that will last for eternity and (2) looking for God in the ordinary things of life so they are transformed into eternal encounters as well.
It seems to me that we all will end up being more productive if we spend more time looking for God, not just despite the daily grind, but in the daily grind!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The problem is not a lack or seriousness in Bible study or honesty and integrity before God. The problem is the mistaken belief that salvation can ever come through finding the right theological system. Because our pursuit of Biblical truth always begins with human minds and is filtered through our own human experiences, our understanding of that truth will always be limited and flawed. Every time we go to scripture with open hearts and minds, we will learn something new. And if we learn something new today, then our understanding was flawed yesterday.
But we can know the truth and the truth will set us free! The saving truth of God is not found in a theological formula or an ecclesiastical structure. It is found in Christ. He is the way, truth and life. As Paul calls the Colossians away from "hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition" (Col 2:8), he points them to the All-Sufficient Christ. Our salvation never depends on us knowing the correct theological formulas but on knowing Christ. Paul theological formula is wrapped up in a person--
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20).
Theology matters. We must continue to study, to be unashamed workers "who uses the true teaching in the right way" (2 Tim 2:15, NCV). "Sound doctrine" literally means "healthy teaching," and it leads us to a healthy life in Christ. But we must never think that our salvation depends upon us getting it all right. We never will. But Jesus got it right once and for all. We must continue to diligently search the scriptures, because they testify about Him (John 5:39)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
- “Freedom” is a city in California, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
- “Freedom” is a magazine (Freedom Magazine) and newspaper (Freedom Newspaper) and a publishing company (Freedom Press).
- There is the Space Station Freedom and the Freedom Tower (new Word Trade Center Tower #1).
- “Freedom” is an album by Carlos Santana, Neil Young and Michael W. Smith (his all-instrumental album).
- “Freedom” is song by Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, Alice Cooper and at least 35 other singers.
- Kris Kristofferson wrote and Janis Joplin sang (actually a cover of a song first done by Roger Miller), “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
- “Freedom!” is the last line and most memorable line by Mel Gibson in his Oscar winning Braveheart.
But freedom has responsibility. It is not free... and it is never just another word for nothing left to loose. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We are give freedom in Christ, and we are called to live in that freedom. But Paul also warns us against the modern idea that freedom means that we can do anything we want. Freedom means living so that we are not enslaved, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature" (Gal 5:13). Our freedom does not permit us to live however we want! That is really bondage and slavery. Freedom in Christ sets us free to live by the law of Christ, the “perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25). Ultimately, becoming free from sin gives us the freedom to lives as the slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:15ff).
Freedom is a lot of things… it is never an excuse to do exactly what it is that we want.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Today we have decided that there is no such thing as a permanent record. In fact, we believe that no one has a right to even keep track. Never mind skippinmg school or smoking in the boys room, the record of serious felonies are expunged at age 18; there is no permanent record. Witth today's emphasis on our rights to privacy, if a schoolchild were ever threatened with something going on his permanent record, he would probably file suit under the Freedom of Information Act and gain possession of his files before recess!
Does Green have a point? Where there is no fear of a lasting record, people tend to do what they think they can get away with. But the problem with that is this-- there is a permanent record. And the record is kept by God.
- But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. (Matt 12:36).
- So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Rom 14:12).
- Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare(Heb 4:13).
- But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5)
- And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Rev 20:12).
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12a)
Monday, November 19, 2007
Peter addresses his first epistle to “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…” The word for "scattered" is the Greek word diaspora. The diaspora or "dispersion" is often a technical expression for Jews who were living throughout the Roman world. These Jews were scattered in tiny isolated communities who looked forward to a future time when they would be reunited with the people of God.
For Peter, Christians are God's true diaspora. So he writes to encourage us to live boldly and faithfully as strangers in the world—
- We are to live our lives here as strangers in reverent fear (1:17).
- We are to resist temptation as aliens and strangers in the world (2:11).
We live today as God’s people scattered throughout a world that is not our own. We live in America, but we are first of all citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, to live as a Christian is to live as an alien, a stranger and a pilgrim.
This status of Christians as a minority group in a world that is not fully theirs comes across vividly through an unknown apologist in the second century who wrote a work known as The Epistle to Diognetus. Let these words inform how you live today in this world in which you are a stranger and pilgrim—
For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or custom. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought or inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of that country in clothing and food and other manners of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own country, but only as aliens.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The next morning I was giving Kenneth Hawley a ride to the airport. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to the Hawley’s home in the last 15 years—maybe a 100 times or more? But I was in a hurry, the traffic was bad and nothing was looking very familiar, and I was afraid I had missed my turn. So I called the office and Cathy assured me I was on the right road. The problem with getting turned around a lot is that you start expecting be to be turned around!)
I would suggest that these incident are proof that I’m getting older, but the truth is that I have always had a horrible sense of direction. If I come down with Alzheimer’s (which does run in our family), no one will know it for a long while because I'm like this all the time. You would think that Newport News is the hardest city in the world to get lost in—everything is built between Warwick Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue so all you have to do is head in the right direction and you’ll eventually get there, right? Well, that’s the hard part—heading in the right direction. I can get turned around going down the street. If anyone is a candidate for a GPS system, that would be me. I almost always print out a Google map before going anywhere.
I think many of us have my sense of direction when it comes to spiritual matters. The world is a confusing place—there are all these mixed messages about values and what is important in life. The siren songs of a thousand different voices bombard us constantly, telling us what is important and what we need to make us happy. On the one had we are told that money can’t buy happiness; but on the other hand Madison Avenue pitchmen offer a thousand different baubles that are money-back guaranteed to satisfy us... until the next thing comes along. We live our lives going in so many different directions at once, and that has to mean that at least some of the time we are going in the wrong direction. Right?
Sometimes when I get lost (and this is contrary to my Y chromosome), I just gotta pull over and call someone. If you are going the wrong way, it doesn’t matter how good the time you are making! We need to spend more time getting life directions from our life map. The Bible has things to say about our life choices—our relationships, use of money, how to treat difficult people, etc. Scripture is not a handbook for running a church. Actually few of what we connect with “running church” are directly mention-- church committees, Sunday Schools, bulletins, order of worship, building programs or even church buildings. What the Bible does reveal is the mind of God, and that is pretty important when it comes to the direction of our lives. Some obscure prophet named Jeremiah said something about “it is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23). We need directions.
And we also need to be more involved in helping one another with directions. Have you ever had another Christian humbly approach you, meantion a wrong direction your life seems to be be taking, give you wise counsel based upon their own past mistakes and then offer to pray with you? Well, me either. But isn’t that what we should be doing? Isn’t that one of the safeguards God gives us to keep us from ignoring or misinterpreting Scripture and making destructive life choices?
We need to be more open to getting directions along the way of our lifewalk. And we need to be more open to giving directions.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
There is an old joke about the preacher who reads his name in the obituaries one Sunday. He checks the bio information, and sure enough it sounds like him. He calls one of his elders and asks, “Did you read the paper?” The elder said, “Yep.” The preacher asked, “Well, did you read the obituaries?” The elder said, “Yep.” Then after a long pause the elder asked, “Where are you calling from?”
One of these days, my name will be in the obituary section for real. I have no idea when that will be or what it will say about my demise. I kinda hope its will read something like, “Newport News man killed when hit by a spaceship while hang gliding on Mars” or something like that. But there indeed be a doggy door out there with my name on it. The only certainty in this uncertain world is that, unless Jesus comes first, some paper somewhere will carry our obituary. Nobody gets out of this life alive. The secret is living a life where you are ready to go whenever it (and however it is) that you go!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Here’s a YouTube video of “I’ll Praise You in This Storm.” This powerful song captures the frustration and the faith that we have all felt at times when going through the storms of life. Like Job we wonder why God doesn’t just step in and take the rain away; but like Job, we decide to trust, and to worship, the God who gives and takes away. The chorus says,
And I'll praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands
That you are who you are no matter where I am
And every tear I've cried you hold in your hand
You never left my side and though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I don’t think I would do so well with a home office. I’m working at home today (at least a big part of it) so I can be here for the Verizon guy who has to get into the house to hook up the new FiOS goodies. Hey, some very nice young men worked in 100 degree heat this summer to rip up my yard to lay fiber optic cable; the least I can do is give them a try! Anyway, I’ve been working on a sermon (or trying to) while working at home (at the table in the den on the laptop. First, as bad as my desktop keyboard was until I found the right one, laptop keyboards are horrible. How do people use these things all day long?
But the real problem is distraction. I’m working where I am looking at the refrigerator, so every time I have a hunger pain, I have to get up and see if anything good has magically appeared in there. And then I saw the mirror frame I kept telling Lynn I’ll glue back together—it’s sitting right there. So I got up and glued it back together. And Maggie keeps barking at someone doing something outside, so naturally I have to get up and see what is distracting her that is distracting me. Randy Tanner told me an idea for a T-shirt that surely he had me in mind as his first customer—“ADHD is not a real disease… oh, look, a squirrel!”
Perhaps one of the biggest spiritual struggles we have is in this area of distraction. We don’t have such trouble identifying the most important things in life—God, family, others. What we have trouble with is being distracted by other things that aren’t bad, just not as important. We spend much of out time on things that we know aren’t central to out being, important to God or critical for our true welfare… but they are so distracting. We can’t seem to focus on the most important things like, “Seek ye first of the
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Anyway, I was listening back over the two albums getting ready for the concert. A song that stuck out for me is the title song off the second CD, “Lifesong.” The song starts like this--
Empty hands held high, such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life, I sing in vain tonight
May the words I say, and the things I do
Make my lifesong sing, bring a smile to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
I want to sign Your name to the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to You
One of the things that keeps coming up in our sermon-n-small group series on Jeremiah was Judah’s insistence on seeing worship as most important to God. If they will just did the Temple thing with all the right rites, then their idolatry, adultery, and abusing the poor doesn’t really matter. Jeremiah tried hard but could never quite disabuse them of that notion... so this guy named Nebuchadnezzar rode into Jerusalem and puntuated the point by destroying the Temple.
Christians struggle under the same illusion that God is intensely interested in is our worship and doctrine, the things we do and say the one hour a week when we’re in church. Isn't that what Christians have fouight over through the centuries, the church stuff? Our lives the rest of the time may look little different from the world around us, but that is OK as long as we get the church think down right. The sound you hear is Jeremiah clearing his throat and trying to get our attention, “Hear the word of the Lord…”
After all, “empty hands held high” in worship really isn’t that big of a sacrifice, is it? If our worship and beliefs are not combined with how we live, then we “sing in vain tonight.” The song that God is most interested in hearing us sing is our “lifesong.” May my lifesong sing to you!
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (Romans 12:1, NLT)
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
We will never have peace with God through our own ability to either figure out all the rules much less keep all of them. If we really believe that to please God we must be able to sift through all the Bible as if it were a codebook, figure out all the of its hidden messages, rules and regulations, and then keep all of those rules perfectly-- well, it's kind of hard to really rest our weight in that, isn't it? Despite our best intentions, such an approach is destined to bring conflict within ourselves and with others. Such an approach rests our weight on ourselves-- on our intelligence and ability. We simply can't bear up under that kind of weight.
Peace with God comes when we rest our weight on God-- on his wisdom and on his accomplishments. That is the message of the cross. We are saved through what Jesus did for us there... and ONLY because of what Jesus did for us there. The cross is the only structure in the universe that is sturdy enough to hold us under the weight of our sin. That is why Paul refused to boast in any of his many accomplishments. They all paled before the glory of the cross.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Deaderick, who in addition to being a member of our church, part of our Sunday night small group and all-around great gal is also a reporter for the Daily Press (hence “Nosey Dwarf”). For some silly reason, the paper saw this as a conflict of interest, and so the picture didn’t run. So Lynn will not be discovered and offered some big modeling job at Disney. Well, it would have probably just complicated our tax return anyway!
This picture is from last night’s Trunk-n-Treat. This year we were the Addams Family, complete with the theme song playing over and over for an hour and a half! Don’t we look “creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky?” Richard Pittman as "Lurch" was just too scary. It was also hard keeping Pugsley and Wednesday (Roger and Kati) from trying to kill each other, but then they do that when they aren't in costume! And this was the first time some of our folks have seen me in a suit and tie… and perhaps the last!
For the uninitiated, Trunk-n-Treat is a community service project where we try to provide a safe Trick-or-Treat alternative. We dress up, turn our cars into candy-give-away stations for the neighborhood kids. It has been very popular among the kids and a lot of fun for the adults. This year, Betty Tanner gave away free hot dogs just in case some of the kids or parents wanted a “nutritious” alternative to high-fructose corn syrup. The weather was great and everyone seemed to have a good time.