Friday, December 29, 2006

Seek Or Swim!

Have you ever tried to figure out why we do such a terrible job of fighting sin? When I think back through my spiritual journey, one of the biggest puzzles for me personally, is why I was such an awful warrior for God. Please don't think I'm saying that I've arrived and that I have totally conquered sin. Far from it! I just understand it now. I understand why I did such a pitiful job of winning the sin battles and why it seemed to be the same battles over and over. The truth is, I wasn't fighting for God - I wasn't HIS warrior, I was fighting for me not him! The other night in a Bible class, I asked the question (from Psalms 101:4) "Why is it so hard for us to hate sin?" While there are loads of ways to look at it, the biggest problem is that we're fighting an unwinable battle and we know it! It's unwinable because we are fighting sin without seeking God! Anything we do, or try to do, that is not connected to and motivated by our desire to draw closer to God, is simply an act of self-righteousness.

Our primary motivation in life is receiving approval and acceptance from those we value. It starts with our parents and then broadens to include family, friends, students, co-workers, neighbors, and church people, to name a few. Since they determine our value, being "good" is defined by what we think they are looking for before they anoint us with that tag or any other spiritual appellation (i.e. faithful, dedicated, spiritual, righteous enough to serve communion or appoint as elder). So we fight sin to be good, to convince others we're good, and even to feel good about ourselves. But we fail most of the time, so we learn to cover sin up, to replace the obvious with the secret - the hide-able, the closet kind of sin. We don't do the "biggies" just the socially acceptable sins, the - you're-okay-because-you-haven't-brought-reproach-on-the-church-sins. You know, like pride, greed, anger, and selfishness - to name a few. And don't get me wrong - we have some victories! We grow out of some things - Praise the Lord! We lose the desire for some sins - finally. But most of the time we feel guilty, hypocritical, and empty. All the "good acts" and all the back pats in the world don't really make you feel fulfilled and at peace. All the approval and acceptance of all the good church people in our life doesn't do what a genuine relationship with the Father can do. He didn't call us to be approved and accepted by others! He didn't call us to be called good! He didn't tell us to fight sin! Well, yes He did tell us to do all those things - JUST NOT FIRST AND FOREMOST. What He wants and has wanted from the beginning - what He clearly tells us is the secret to all the other things - is to seek Him! Long for Him! Draw close to Him! Hunger for a relationship with Him! When that is our deepest desire, we stop being the Lone Ranger of sin fighting. Seeking Him changes our motivations, our goals, and our desires. Seeking Him means that we are working from the inside out not the outside out! Trying to be righteous without seeking a relationship with God is phony faith and shallow fellowship. Others may say we're good, but maybe it's good for nothing!

Just think about it! Where did we get the innate urge to be accepted, wanted, and desired? Is it surprising that we want what God wants? He's just waiting for us to want Him as much as He wants us! SEEKING HIM simply means that we set our hearts on knowing Him and as we know Him, we seek to please Him! Seeking is the bottom line! It's what He is looking for in the heart of every person! To seek Him is to believe in Him, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Ever wonder how David, with all his sins, mistakes, and short-comings could be "a man after God's own heart?" In his heart he was seeking God! At times he got distracted and forgot who he loved the most, but when he remembered ( or was reminded), he turned to God with a passion that God wants to see in everyone of us.

It's not like we haven't known this all along. It's not a secret. It really is that simple. We've always known that relationships don't "just happen". They have to be sought, built, and cherished. That's what God wants. Quit seeking to be good. Seek to know and love God, and he'll take care of the good. No one knows "good" like He does!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Go Chad!

Okay, I'm pretty proud of some of my surprise gifts. I remember an opal ring I secretly bought for Donna thirty-something years ago when we didn't have two nickels to rub together and we owed the in-laws an arm and a leg. I wanted it for her and she still wears it and shows it, and receives compliments regularly for it. Then there was the twenty-fifth anniversary diamond ring to add to the puny little engagement thing I bought her while we were still in college. The new one had several nice diamonds to surround the sentimental speck I gave here in '71. And how about that surprise 30th anniversary trip to Disney World for four days? If you know Donna, you know she'd take that over a diamond any day. It's her favorite place in the world! We had a wonderful four day adventure at the four kingdoms of Disney and she literally wore me out going to so many things. Of Course my favorite was the custom made necklace I had made for her that year too. A white gold replica of an old pop-top from a soda can. It has precious stones on it to represent different things, but most of all I knew she'd love telling the story to anyone who asked her about the strange meaning behind it. It had to do with how we got engaged and she has told the story hundreds of times. To quote Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1 (NAS of course) "Nevertheless"- (it's my favorite word since it follows "It's good for a man to not touch a woman.") nevertheless, I must pronounce that my son-in-law Chad has given the ultimate gift to my daughter Elizabeth. He had all her blogs, pictures and all, made into a book as a keepsake and to honor her wonderful words of wisdom, sharing, and love. It's beautiful, and yes guys - romantic! It means he must turn in his camo at once! Not! It was a wonderfully thoughtful gift, and something that will bring joy to her, their family and friends, and anyone who sees it, for lots of years. Good job Chad! I say it a lot, though maybe not to them, but Pat, Chad, and Holly are three incredible people who have blessed our family in so many ways. The law says they are my sons and daughter in-law, but I say they're my kids, just like the three they married and I thank God every day for answering our prayers and bringing them into our lives.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It IS a wonderful life!

There hasn't been time to add to my blog pile in the past week. We had an early Christmas in Nashville last Friday so the grand kids could have Christmas with the in-laws. It's tough sharing! It was wonderful to be with our family, minus Jonathan and Holly of course, who couldn't leave NY due to "professional demands." It's nice to be on Broadway, but "the show must go on" is not just a catchy slogan - it's a business reality. So, we missed them a lot, but our "show must go on" too, and it did. As usual, we were blessed through giving, and honored by receiving. Mostly, we saw again how much we have to be thankful for. Thanks to our Father for another chance to be together and have safe travel. Thanks to everyone for the well-thought-out-gifts. Thanks to Carter for letting us have his bed. Thanks to Chad and Elizabeth for sharing your house and making a special trip to have coffee for me. Thanks to Ashlyn for sweet kisses and smiles. Thanks to Pat and Deborah for hosting Christmas, fixing an awesome Christmas dinner, and (to Pat) for not over cooking the venison on the grill. Ummm! Thanks to Joshua and Caleb for the pocket knife and Wet-Wipes! I've needed both on many occasions. Thanks to Mamaw and Papaw for driving all the way from Searcy to share Christmas with us. Even if you left your gifts (accidently) at home, you were the best gift we could all have been given. God is good to allow us to have so many wonderful memories.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Parables and Movies

In a couple of weeks I plan to present a lesson on the Prodigal son. I love that parable! I love the picture of the father looking for his son, hoping he'll return, and looking for the opportunity to forgive him. The irony of the parable is that it's really not about the wayward son, and as much as I love the description of God as the father, he's not the focus either. The context seems to show that it was about the older brother, the one who truly didn't know his father or realize what a wonderful relationship he was missing out on - even though he stayed home. Jesus was trying to help the religious leaders realize their detachment from God. They were the older, self-righteous brother, and they needed to get past good works and move toward a deep relationship with the Father. I thought of this as I watched Lord of the Rings this past weekend. Yes, all three, mostly late evening, and even some of the special features. It's the second time since seeing them at the movies, and I'm finally starting to understand most of it, or at least get the names straight. You know what? You don't have to understand everything or even remember the names of everyone to appreciate the wonderful message of friendship. I love the growing relationship between the Fellowship of the Ring. I love the emphasis on loyalty, courage, and sacrifice. When you watch it looking for all the unselfish acts of friendship, it becomes an amazing portrait of commitment and love. I'd use some examples if I could remember the names, not to mention spell them correctly. What does this have to do with the Prodigal Son? I think the argument could be made that The Lord of the Rings is not about Frodo, the carrier of the ring, but about Sam, whose friendship and loyalty was totally unbreakable. There are several times in the movies when I find myself getting teary eyed, but when Sam tells, Mr. Frodo "I can't carry the ring, but I can carry you" and he proceeds to carry him up that mountain - well, it gives me chills just thinking about it.

I thank God for the good friends He has given me through the years. There have been many who I know would carry me up the hill, and many I would carry or die trying. That's an awesome blessing. What more could anyone hope for in life than to have a loving family and loyal friends? It's especially wonderful when that friendship includes our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. That's a ring of fellowship that will last a lot longer than this life.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Nativity

If you're looking for a telling of the nativity story that compares to the church children's plays you've seen, prepare yourself for a shock. This is a wonderful movie. It's powerful, accurate, and emotional without being "Hollywood". They did a marvelous job of being culturally and historically accurate and they did a great job of providing a balance between being too "stone age ancient" with the poor country folks and too glittery with Herod and his palaces. The best part of the experience for me was seeing and feeling the struggle and turmoil that Joseph and Mary went through. They were real people with real doubts and real challenges. The actors were amazingly believable. Not super-spiritual giants, but simple Jewish towns people trying to survive in a harsh world. I found it to be very emotional. Legal eagles will find stuff to pick at and continue the smug elitist grumbling that "It's the death and resurrection that counts not his birth." But, I'm not sure it didn't take as much sacrifice and submission to leave heaven and take the form of a poor carpenters son as it did to go to the cross 33 years later. You can't have the ending if there's not a beginning. The spirit and power of the story transcends the timeline problems and the traditional number of wise men. Two simple people struggling to obey God when they don't understand all that's happening is more meaningful and relevant than any movies that will ever come out of Hollywood. And this isn't a fantasy. If you're overwhelmed by how God could love us so much, this movie will truly touch you. If it's just about seeing another Christmas story, stick to the church children's play.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


This picture was taken tonight after a wild night of partying and eating too much! Well, at least we did eat too much at Longhorn's Steak House. Today is our thirty-fourth anniversary! I can't remember what the precious stone or metal is that symbolizes thirty-four. Right now I think it's Tums. And by the way, yes we were only five years old when we got married in 1972. Actually it was a cold and snowy evening, and we'd both taken two finals at Harding that day. We laughed tonight about leaving for our honeymoon with $60 and a gas credit card. Our honeymoon consisted of a two day trip from Searcy to Washington, D.C. to spend Christmas with my family. We still had a year and a half of college to finish and we'd have starved to death if my sweet in-laws hadn't let us eat with them so much. God is good. Besides, thirty-four years wasn't THAT long ago. In fact, I'm still making payments on college loans for Harding University. Some things never change. (Boy I hope that's not true!) Also, I don't think I had such a huge forehead back in '72. But how about that good looking girl-friend? She still looks awesome!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Coffee With God?

Wouldn't you love to sit down and have coffee with God? Some might think of it as blasphemy, but I've been wondering what I'd ask God if I could have an open discussion with Him and receive some clear and immediate answers. It's not like I don't talk to Him, and it's not as if He doesn't respond - and "NO" I'm not talking about still voices in the night or writings on the wall. He answers through His Spirit who helps us understand His Word. He sends others to teach and share things with me (even if they thought it was their idea), and He gives wisdom and understand as we pray for it (remember James 1). I do know a little something about what the Bible teaches. Not enough, but enough to know He's given me enough. Still, if I could just sit and interact with Him, and ask those questions that, well, even if I know the answers, I'd love to hear Him say "You're right." It'll happen - if it's up to me, about three seconds after my travel angel drops me off in heaven. And there has to be good coffee in heaven. None of that fancy, foamy, frew-frew stuff. A mild "heavenly blend" of coffee that won't give bad breath or brown teeth. But I digress. What WOULD I ask if I could, right now, sit and have coffee with God? I'm actually thinking that I'd like to write a ficticious (dah!) telling of the event. Would it be presumptuous to say what I think He would say? Can I talk for God? I hope so. Several hundred brethren are paying me a salary to do that every week - several times throughout the week! But I mean, really making it the "voice of God," the final word, the ultimate answer! Would it be disrepectful to think of God in a three-button Henley, and maybe a "SAINTS" baseball cap, sitting at a cafe table, with me, talking about what He really wants, what we've really missed, and what He really has in store for us? What would He say? What would you ask? What are the real meaty things that it would be wonderful to hear God clarify, simplify, and explain? Every time I have an open forum Q & A the same three questions are always asked. It's always something about divorce, instrumental music, and the role of women in the church. When I think of addressing those to God over coffee I feel - shame. Shame, because I can see His sad eyes saying, "Do you really think these are the biggest problems you have?" I feel like it would sound like that "resounding gong or a clanging cymbal" He talked about in 1 Corinthians 13. These things are not unimportant, they're just not the stuff I need on the table with our coffee mugs. Why do I sense that all the questions would well up in my throat and get stuck? Maybe it's because the only question that counts is the one He will ask. He smiles, looks into my watery eyes and asks, "Do you love Me?" And my heart leaps with joy - not fear. Joy that he didn't ask me that thirty years ago - twenty, well, ten, and that He didn't ask me that back in my "I'm right, let's debate" days, and joy that He gave me so many opportunities to trust Him and draw close to Him, be healed by Him and, most of all, be His child and be His Son to others who needed to see Him. My heart leaps with joy because the answer is "YES" - I know it's "yes" and He knows it's "yes"and that's all He ever wanted from me. And the voice of God said, "Well then, pass the sugar."

Almost Show Time!

I'm ready to announce for anyone who is interested or who needs to plan their entire 2007 calendar. The 2007 flourishing musical is done! I finished writing it last week and all the music is chosen and being rewritten by me, yea verily this day. Anyone who attended "Fiddling On the Ark" or who saw the DVD version will know that this is a huge event at flourishing and we had a full house every night! The best part was the 300 plus families that we were able to follow up with and place on our mailing list. I fully expect this next year's production to be even bigger, more entertaining, and reach far more people. After all, we had nearly a couple thousand people see it live and probably ten times that now have seen the DVD. I'm planning to add at least one more nights performance and maybe have members attend the dress rehearsal so they can help with greeting, parking, ushering, and such the four nights of the play. So, here it is: The Lord of the Parables: The Trilogy! Right now we have 23 songs planned, but that may change, plus or minus one or two, depending on need. The stories will be The Good Samaritan (in Broadway musical style), The Ten Maidens (using oldies R&R songs), and The Prodigal Son (primarily praise songs). It will be a mixture of instrumental and acappella songs. I could tell you more, but I haven't even told the flourishing family yet, so I better wait until we kick off the prep work next month. So, if you want to see it live, mark down June 7, 8, 9, &10. No reservations or tickets required, but I predict a real challenge in seating all who want to come. Last June we filled up our seating each night, as mentioned, but what I didn't mention was that it was ALL WORD OF MOUTH! We did very little advertising and the post response was awesome. We'll add a couple hundred chairs and extra night and see what happens. Can't wait! Can you picture the five foolish maidens as The Supremes and the wise maidens as The Andrews Sisters? I can - aint it scary?

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Healthy Discussion

We had another discussion at yesterday's preachers meeting about healthy churches. I like it! I am so excited to see us finally shift our focus in church growth from numbers to spiritual health. At a time when there's more church-hopping and style seeking than real relationship building, how can anyone define "church success" by large, medium, or small, as if they were talking about pizzas instead of living bodies of believers. Most church folks still pick congregations like they were shopping for curtains or, and maybe more appropriately, the newest DVD. Church is all about "what I like," "what I need," or "what really makes going to church enjoyable." If we happen, by the shear number of times attending, to get close to someone and develop a good friendship, well - that's just icing on the cake. Thus church success is defined by how many we attract and hold, and church health is defined by how many people are in an uproar about something. As much as I love church health over church growth, I am still troubled why how quickly we equate health with happiness. We joke about troublemakers, brainstorm about including the left-out, and worry about how the next change is going to be received by Pre-War, Post-War, Baby Boomer, Gen Xers, Me Gen, Old Folks, Power Hungry, the New Members, the still Dead, the Wild Ones, etc., etc., so forth and so on! Wait a second! Spiritual health is not about numbers, or labels, or being mega or mini, or being free from conflict. Symptoms? Maybe! Spiritual health is faithfulness! Faithfulness, the kind that is not about image management, is a relationship with Jesus! There is no relationship with Jesus without a deep prayer life, because it is a relationship based on faith and prayer is the single most important act of faith in our life. So what is church health? Jesus! He's not a topic or a course of study - He's Lord, Master, sovereign, friend, and imitating Him is the goal of every child of God. Church health is a body of believers totally focused on HIM! It's a praying church! A compassionate church! A group of givers not receivers, which makes assembly style and ministry organization insignificant supports! Of course, if health is all about Jesus, then love will be what defines any congregation as belonging to Him. The next time I'm asked, "What is a healthy church," whether it's a preachers meeting or group of children, my answer will be: Any group of believers that Jesus would point to and say, "They're mine!" The question is not what we think, but what does He think! Here's to your health!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"It's Beginning To Look A lot Like Christmas"

See - we really did put our tree up. Okay, so it was several days after I said we were going to put it up, but at least it was in the same week. We still didn't get the outside lights up. I'm not sure when the ice on the house will melt enough to allow us to attach all the lights. Maybe we'll just bask in the glow of our neighbors extensive light show. It's just a few feet across the street and if we open our blinds up, it almost looks like their lights are in our yard. Alright! That'll work - at least until we get some warmer temperatures. Anyway - the tree is up - though bare of wrapped gifts, and the stocking are hung on the window with care. It's safer than the fireplace! I'm sure it will just be a matter of time before all the "things" tucked away in all the closets up stairs get wrapped and placed under the tree. Maybe there will be one with my name on it!????

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Snowed In But Power On!

It was so wonderful to wake up this morning in a warm house. Nearly all the houses in Florissant and surrounding areas are without power and the temps are in the teens. They're talking about 4 to 5 days before all the power will be restored. We lost our power for eight days back in July, but it's a lot easier to relax and stay cool in July than to get warm in bitter temperatures. These pictures make it look like a light snow, but under that four inches of snow is about two inches of ice and its the ice that is bringing down power lines, even while they are still repairing the first lines that came down. We also lost power at the church building and had some serious damage in the office area - the new office area - from water leaking through the roof. What makes is even more weird is that on Wednesday it was in the upper 60's and had been for most of the week prior to that. Of course, the toughest part is that it's too cold and the roads are too nasty - to go hunting! Just kidding! Sort of! Actually I'm so sore from shoveling snow and scraping the layer of ice off the driveway that I can hardly move. Hmmm - didn't use to do that to me.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Unconditional Love?

It seems to me that many people confuse the love of God and the holiness of God. God is love - period! End of point! And nothing can separate us from that love whether we are believers or non-believers. But God is holy too! Holiness cannot coexist with unholiness or it's not really holy! Are you with me? It's the love of God that provided a way for unholy "us" to have a relationship with a holy "Him"! While love is unconditional, to enjoy the benefits of His love we must meet the requirements of His holiness. Fortunately that is what grace does. His grace declares us holy because of what Jesus did in the cross. That is why He had to die there and why God had no alternative. Grace is the free gift of God, but it certainly is not unconditional. It requires faith; it requires walking in the light; and it requires a seeking heart (because that is what God rewards - Heb.11:6)

Now isn't that impressive theology? I'm not trying to impress, but I am trying to be emphatic. One of the most overlooked "conditions" in all of the Bible, and one of the most difficult spiritual qualities to consistently develop is forgiveness. Jesus said it first, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15) That's one of the toughest "ifs" we will ever face in our life. How can you forgive someone who hurts you so deeply? Jesus did it - at the cross! How can you forgive someone who hurts someone you dearly love? God did it - at the cross. Doesn't that show us that it's not easy? Doesn't that show us that forgiveness doesn't mean freedom from pain and suffering? What it does mean is that forgiveness is something we must do to be like Him. It's not an option. There are no "scriptural exceptions" no "innocent parties". There is no way to just move on and ignore it. Jesus said do it or lose it!

The most difficult thing I've ever done is forgive people who've hurt me. It's harder than struggling with greed, pride, and lust. I think the reason for that is because it's truly just between me and God. Especially when forgiveness wasn't asked for or sought by those who did the hurting. Real faith is when we do what Jesus would do and it's clearly not for anyone else! And I can see how He used those "forgiving times" to mold my heart in ways that never would have happened without that spiritual challenge. It's easy to receive forgiveness. It's somewhat harder to accept it at times (because of our tendency to embrace guilt). The hardest, and every bit as essential, is giving it. When we do - well, that's when we truly understand the Cross.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Slicing Turkey & Skipping "Wocks"

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Now, in spite of what the merchants have been promoting for two months, I'm ready to think about Christmas. Our neighbors put up their extensive outdoor decorations over the weekend, and since the glow from their property can cause a tan in ten minutes, we plan to put our decorations up today to somehow fight back and create a cross lighting dimness that allows us to go outside at night without sun glasses. Just kidding! They actually have quite beautiful decorations that really help me get into the spirit of the season. I'm glad they like to spend the better part of a weekend putting up thousand of lights on their houses. My goal is to just not look like a dark hole in the neighborhood. We put lights up so that the passengers in the string of cars touring our street will have to look to both sides of the street. If we do get our decorations up today, it will be the first time in our life that we actually put them up before the first of December. Usually it's the middle of December before we put them up. In fact, for a lot of years the goal was to get them up before the kids came home from college. That's really the biggest reason for me to decorate the house. Special days or seasons of the year are all about family. I'm so thankful that we got to have most of our family with us for Thanksgiving. We ate too much, slept too little, laughed too hard, and loved every minute of it. We thought about Jonathan and Holly and prayed that they had a great time in spite of not being with loved ones. Love doesn't need a holiday and it's not restricted by miles and schedules. Still, it's wonderful to get hugs from little arms, hold hands for prayers, and play games around the dinner table late into the night. Maybe putting up the Christmas decorations will remind me that it can happen again in just a few weeks. It's amazing how Thanks-giving becomes thanks-blessing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Same Song, Second Verse!

It's been troubling me since our phone conversation last week. It was a conversation I've had scores of times with scores of different brethren. This good brother was "worried and anxious" about the struggle that seemed to be tearing his church family apart. My heart ached for him, because I've been there so many times and talked with others about the same problem so many times. I'm talking about worship wars. Members want life, relevance, and some excitement to build one another up and speak to the next generation that is coming along, but elders are petrified about changing any traditions because of the "good ole boys" who will get mad and leave. What do you do? What's best? Do you change non-essentials to speak to the culture of the day, or is the goal maintaining our heritage, our traditions, our comfort zones? So we clash about everything from song types to hand clapping to from where and how the communion should be served. Should we be contemporary or traditional? What kind of "style" does God want us to have in our assemly? Can we solve the "worship problem"? No - not until we start truly caring about what God wants! If anyone's assembly style is defined by anything other than love - it's in serious error! We are so focused on ourselves that we have forgotten what God's simple intent was with all this "assembly stuff!" It's never called "worship" or "church" or any of the other things we have developed through the centuries. Worship is a life given in obedience to God (Romans 12:1). Church is not an institution but simply a tool for building spiritual relationships, because that is how we learn to love God (read 1 Jn). The assembly of Christians - getting together for any reason - is a necessary requirement if we are going to do all the "one another" things listed repeatedly in the New Testament. THE ASSEMBLY IS FIRST, LAST, AND ALWAYS A GIVING EVENT! Encouragement and edification are always things we do for others! How in the world did we get it so turned around that we see it as a "receiving" event? Like I've said for years, we believe it's "more blessed to give than to receive" until we assemble together. It's my opinion that this transformation of God's original intend is one of Satan's greatest victories! It's universal among Christian religions. When we start returning the Christian assembly to a giving experience, the worship wars will stop and brethren will begin to realize that it's all about learning to "love one another" not "have it your way." That is true no matter what kind of style you think your assembly should have. If Satan is cheering, what must the Father be doing? I think He's hoping our togetherness will start looking more like a Thanksgiving dinner with family and less like a group of Olympic diving judges with score cards in their hands. Happy thanksgiving!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Okay - so it's been a week since my last blog! It's been an unusual week. We made a quick trip to Nashville to be with our WHOLE family for the first time since July of '05. Since Jonathan is in a Broadway show, he just can't leave whenever he wants. He and Holly will be spending another Thanksgiving and Christmas in New York without being able to visit with family for even one day. So, it was absolutely worth the eleven hours of driving time to get to spend a little over twenty-four hours with family (counting sleep time). I can't put into words how blessed I felt to just watch Chad and Elizabeth's house literally churning with family. Holly's parents where able to be with us and we had an absolutely wonderful time. Of course, even with long-lost Uncle Jonathan and Aunt Holly there, the grand-kids where the center of attention. God is so good to allow me to just sit and watch all the playing, laughing, and sharing of three generations at once. To look around the room and see how much God has blessed each person and each family there made Paul's phrase, "Rejoice in the Lord always" an understatement and a commitment that will be there when life's "inevitables" come along. We have so much to be thankful for and so much that bonds us together, but what thrills me the most is knowing that Jesus is Lord of all from the little ones to the oldest and widest. (I wish I could say wisest.) So of all the profound thoughts I could blog about today, the only one that compels me is this: Love your family enough to keep God first in everything you do. You won't be perfect at it, but that's part of of the teaching. Repenting and forgiving is just as important as being kind and considerate to others. Get the awards, the diplomas, and the promotions, but never forget that one day you'll want to sit in the living room and watch your adult children and their godly spouses laugh and play with grand children who pray "Thank you for your Holy Spirit" and who stand on the hearth and sing "Praise Jesus." I don't care what they say on TV - that's real "living large."

Friday, November 10, 2006

With all the pictures of my grandkids on my blog, and of course my lovely wife, I decided it was time to post a picture of Jonathan. Actually, I was just thinking about how wonderful it is that, while we are so looking forward to finally seeing JD do the presentation at the Quill Awards, now we are going to get to see him and Holly in Nashville next week. I'm recording the Awards show which is on here at 3:00 AM Monday morning on MSNBC. And while I'm looking forward to seeing it, it's soooo much nicer to see the real people in person. We've only seen them once in the last 13 months and that's tooooo long. I hate that we are so far away from them, but we are so proud of the way they have taken The Big Apple by storm. Who knows - there may be a quick trip to NY in the near future. In the meantime, we will be praying for safe travel for all of us who will be making the whirlwind - 24 hr turn-around trip to Nashville next week. Wow - how long has it been since the whole Root clan was together? Wasn't it July before last? Picture time!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

There but for the grace of God...

One of the most astounding passages of scripture in the whole New Testament is also one of the best known. It's a "WOW" passage for me. Always has been. I'm talking about the opening verses of the great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul tells us that popular spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues and prophecy, and faith that can move mountains, and total sacrifice of possessions and body - all pale to insignificance when there is no love in the heart. He says that without love "I am nothing" and "I gain nothing." I have always simply thought of that as a hyperbole to elevate the importance of love. Come on! Move mountains? Give all possessions to the poor? Giving up your body to be burned alive! That's pretty heavy stuff. It certainly dwarfs anything I do in the name of Jesus! But here's the deal: the context is Christians who have been given spiritual gifts as tools to help them draw close to God, but they started focusing on the tool and forgetting purpose! THAT'S WHY IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE, BECAUSE GOD IS LOVE! Everything He has given us was meant to help us know Him, understand Him, and seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Any spiritual thing we do, should be part of that desire to seek Him, or it becomes a ritual, an act of self-righteousness "to be seen of men," or at worst blatant hypocrisy and/or idolatry. If it's not contributing to our awareness of the presence of God, deepening our relationship with Him, and helping us become like Him, to use Paul's words, "I gain nothing." God must be in the private corners of our life or we will allow secret sin to move in. My heart aches for Ted and all the crushed spirits of his church in Colorado. The news media "stars" were salivating over another scandal - another opportunity to ridicule faith and values, but we need to ignore embarrassment and embrace the Father with open hearts, clear consciences, and the peace that only comes from letting His light shine in all the dark corners of our soul. I believe with all my heart that secret sin is Satan's most powerful tool in destroying Christians. He uses the shallow nature of external faith. He feeds our brain the idea that if other Christians don't know what we're doing, thinking, feeling, or committing - and our spiritual acceptance is intact, there's no need to confront and confess the sin. But secret sin is the worst kind of faithlessness because it ignores a real and present God! One doesn't have to "come out of the closet" for God because He knows exactly what's in the closet. Remember, He's the One who told us to go there and pray (Matt.6)! Love God's people and love everything about His church, but love Him enough to seek Him in the secret places. He's not interested in the "resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." He waiting to hear the whisper of a wounded heart asking Him into the dark places where pride, greed, lust, and lies are spiritual tumors. Isn't it wonderful to know that there's not a spot anywhere that His love and grace cannot reach. There are no secrets with God. I can't think of any reason why there should be any secrets with His children either! "Father, keep me from secret sin!" For God, that's an oxymoron. For me, it's a passionate petition.

Monday, November 06, 2006

View & Review

There's something special about the bright wide eyes of children who are believing the unbelievable. The innocence of youth is beautiful and scary when you think about it being lost, abused, or misdirected. But we all were there at some time in our life, we just can't remember it. Maybe that's why it's so wonderful to see it - especially in adorable grand children. A couple weeks ago a friend (initials - Danny Younger), brought us the gift of a talking deer head that is mounted on the wall and will sing songs, crack jokes, and move like it's alive. It's like having Disney World in our den. You can also use a microphone and talk through the deer and it moves as it talks your words. Saturday morning I had Pat provide the voice as our deer talked to Joshua and Caleb in our den. At first they were surprised, of course, and Caleb was even a little afraid. But within seconds they were talking with the deer head as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It was so sweet to see them carry on a conversation with a deer head that they clearly didn't see as dead. I can't wait to have all four grand kids here at Thanksgiving talking to the deer head. I think we need to come up with a name for the new deer. Any suggestions?

We went to see Spamalot last Saturday afternoon and enjoyed it. The word that I keep thinking of is "cute". It's not great theater or great music it's just fun. In fact, what I enjoyed most was the "making fun" of musicals that is a major theme through the show. It's worth seeing and full of typical MP humor, if you enjoy that kind of thing, and I do. In fact, most of the jokes would be classified in our family as "Dad jokes". I could do without the obligatory gay Lancelot number, but it was funny. Great costumes and scenery and some great audience connection/participation. All in all it was a good experience, but I'm sure it was nothing like seeing a great musical on Broadway with you-know-who!

Friday, November 03, 2006

"I aint no Prince Charming!"

We are so thrilled to have Pat, Deborah, Joshua, and Caleb with us that I don't want to spend much time doing blog work today. However, I thought I'd share this picture from this past Tuesday evenings Trunk or Treat/Fall Festival/Call-it-anything-but-Halloween church event. We had a lot of fun and the Lord blessed us with tons of community goblins, I mean guests. But of course, for me (and others who aren't as prejudiced as I), the best dressed and prettiest maiden in the building was Snow White. I was so dwarfed by her stunning presence that I came dressed like a preacher with a camera (lot's of make-up). I really love to see the kids faces light up when they see Snow White. They all know it's "Mrs. Donna" but they all know she's the closest thing to the real Snow White anyone could ever be. That's why I like to see her wear the outfit - it really is quite natural and appropriate. And in case anyone wonders, yes, I did do the Prince Charming costume once, but never again. I just don't like blue tights! Maybe camo...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Missouri Morning With God

Yes, it's hard to not say the 1 picture = 1000 word thing. It was so incredible out in the woods yesterday morning that my camera couldn't even do it justice. FYI - the deer was 22 yards away, but I enjoyed the spying over the shooting (it helps to have a freezer full of venison). I also had some turkeys come by at about 20 yards (the two legged feathery kind) and if I'd known the pictures didn't turn out - none of them - I'd have had my bow in hand instead of the camera. The colors on the trees were so vibrant and beautiful - I wish they'd last longer. Wow, what a metaphor of life - I smell a sermon - not! God's creation is always one of the best sermons we'll ever hear or see! Thank you Lord for another day in your cathedral!

(By the way Chad, the doe came from exactly were the script said! Sorry she waited.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

And God said...

The problem is not whether or not God speaks to us. The problem is our willingness to hear Him when it happens. We pray for guidance, and then put Him on a stop-watch to answer us yesterday. It's no wonder we don't hear Him when the only way we think He can talk to us is through scriptures. Why is it that somehow it's scary to think of God personally speaking to our hearts but we have no problems believing He can providentially guide us to the exact passage of scripture we need? Let me add to my record of radical teachings the belief that God speaks to us! I truly hope you do too! I'm not talking about any new teachings or anything that contradicts His Word, because, after all, a Holy God cannot contradict Himself and still be Holy! And I'm not talking about "still voices in the night" or burning bushes. I'm talking about an open heart being receptive to the Holy Spirits help and leading - just like Paul declares in Romans 8. Why is it that we all agree that Satan puts evil thoughts in our hearts, but have a hard time believing that God can put a godly thought there? When we hear that inner voice tell us to do something good - something Christ-like, it may be a conscience that is godly or maybe it's something God wants us to do! There is nothing in scripture that says that God cannot put a thought into our hearts. The real question is who are you listening to? To say that God is not actively involved is to say that the fruit of the Spirit is really just fruit without the Spirit! When we have the fruit of the Spirit, we have God working in our lives - helping, guiding, speaking, and drawing closer to us.
Who do we listen to? I was made painfully aware of how we listen to the wrong people as we looked at the problem of suffering and pain in one of my study groups. I have been guiding people in a discussion of "How can there be a loving God when there is so much pain and suffering in the world?" That's considered the number one argument for atheists. Then last night I was reading a book where a professor was asked that question and his response was, "In a world with so much good, how can there not be a God?" Wow! I immediately was saddened by the thought that I was influenced more by the news programs I watched than the goodness of God I witnessed all around me. It's a deep concept. Now I wonder - did God lead me to that page in that book, was it a coincidence, or did He speak to me through that professor, or...What difference does it make. He's involved - and I'm thankful for all the help He can give! Thank you Father.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I am thankful that God is so patient with me. While there are thousands of things that I could mention, I am humbled so much by the fact He gave me enough years of life to realize how important it is to be thankful. It's not an accident that thankfulness permeates the Word of God as much or more than any other concept! Just check out a concordance and see how often thanks, thankful, thankfulness, thanksgiving, and gratitude appear in the Bible! It's amazing that we miss how central it is to spiritual growth! Since I have been thinking so much about it the last few years, and hopefully growing in it too, I've been looking for things as I read the Bible that will remind me about how much I have to be thankful for. Of course, the Word is full of statements about God's love, grace, and mercy. Because of Jesus, nothing in this world looks as good as joining Him in Heaven. I love all the passages about "one another" stuff too! I get excited reading about what the Spirit does even though I'll never understand the how and when. But I read a very special verse in John's third epistle that I've read scores of times, but I've never let it speak for me. When I did, it said it all. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (vs.4) Isn't that awesome? There is nothing that thrills me more than to know that our physical children and their godly spouses all love God and are actively building deeper relationships with Him. And it's wonderful to know that our grandchildren, both born and hoped for, will be raised knowing and loving our Father. And I also have to add to that group the many spiritual children through the years that we have helped to find God and know Him better. God has allowed us to impact a lot of lives over the last thirty-plus years and we are thankful for each one. Still, I can think of six "kids" and four grand-kids in particular, who give me the greatest joy because I know they "are walking in the truth." That's especially exciting when you remember that "truth" is Jesus (John 14:6), not some persons idea of "doctrinal correctness." I really like John's declaration of joy and I especial like his clear sense of priorities. I can't wait to tell him "thanks" in person.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Said I Wasn't Gonna Shout About It But...

My grandson, Carter, loves to "frow woks" in the pond behind our house. There's just something about that splash that little boys love seeing. When all three of our our grand-boys are here, you'd think it was a hail storm with so many rocks being tossed into the water. We learned to stand alert too. The rocks are liable to go in any direction! It was so nice to have Chad, Elizabeth, Carter, and Ashlyn with us this past weekend. We got to visit and eat, play with the kids and eat, Chad and I did some hunting and eating, and we got to plan what we're going to eat when they visit next month for Eatgiving. Deborah called yesterday to give us the exciting news that she, Pat, Joshua, and Caleb are coming up for a quick visit next week. I can't wait to see them and spend some quality time eating. Now, why am I twenty pounds overweight and taking cholesterol medicine? Another blog at another time - when I don't have a dinner to attend.

Can I just say that this is may favorite time of the year! I just love it. It's why I can spend three or four hours sitting in a tree stand - never seeing a deer, and still love every minute of it. The colors of nature right now are awesome. Is God the best artist or what? And I wish I could tell you how nice it is to be in those woods and just think about God and talk to Him like I'd talk to another hunting buddy. (Remember, He is the One who told Peter to "Kill and eat!") If brethren knew how many good ideas and sermon thoughts came from being out in the woods, they'd close down my office during hunting season! With God's help, I've resolved more problems, removed more stress, and discovered more answers in tree stands than nearly any place I've ever spent time. In spite of the thousands of folks who've expressed concern over me possibly hitting "Bambi" with an arrow from my bow, there have been far more inspiring thoughts than perspiring deer drags. Besides, Bambi would have died of old age four decades ago - IF HE WEREN'T A CARTOON CHARACTER!

I don't recommend many books, other than the six by the author I know best, but I have truly enjoyed Seeking A Lasting City, by Mark Love, Douglas Foster, and Randy Harris. It's full of challenging thoughts and offers an excellent approach to understanding the purpose of the church. Every church leader should read it. In fact, it would be an awesome study guide for a church staff and eldership to go through together. They are hitting many things that have been on my heart the last few years. If you're like me, it's not a good bedtime book because it gets the mental juices flowing. Hope you can get a copy. It's through ACU Press.

Go Cards!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Baby Steps!

It's the simple things we do that develops our character. Sometimes we think that if we attend a certain workshop, lectureship, or seminar, or maybe participate in some great spiritual activity we will be changed into mature people of God. These things are wonderful support activities, but it's when we do the day to day things - those small choices that God gives us the chance to grow through - those times we choose to have a spiritual perspective - that's when we have true spiritual formation happening in our lives. In the last couple of years it has helped me to think of these things as "spiritual baby steps." Growing a faith relationship doesn't happen in leaps but in little steps. But that's the nature of all relationship building. Whether we are building a friendship, a mature marriage, or our walk with God, it's the baby steps that keep it moving, keep it real, and keep it exciting. This is the stuff that books need to be written about, but this is supposed to be a short blog so I'll just illustrate this by pointing back to the blog about "thoughtfulness" being the single most important element in marriage or any relationship - including with God. So what's the secret to being a thoughtful spouse, friend, parent, or child of God? Thankfulness! Thankfulness is thoughtfulness and thoughtfulness creates thankfulness. But- thankfulness is not a huge act of appreciation, it's baby steps of being thankful in all the small things of life - of our relationship. We choose it! We build a grateful attitude and grateful attitudes are growing attitudes! It's also, I believe, the single most important way to grow a prayer life and draw closer to God. After all, who are you thankful to, and it's simply a baby step prayer - which is communication with God - which is how relationships are built! We are in control of thankfulness, and hence, in control of being thoughtful. Thanks for reading this.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

History Lesson 101

When I was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C., I used to think of myself as "living in history." As I got older, I learned to enjoy history, thanks to a top teacher in high school. After earning a masters degree in history, I thought I would be able to say "I know history," but graduate work gets narrower the farther you go and so I could/can only say "I know some history." Well, now I'm old enough to say "I am history!" - though technically I'm not history until I'm totally past tense. I like history - most of the time. I like it as a category in Trivial Pursuit. I like reading about wars and visiting old battle fields. I enjoy learning from history and using it in my preaching and teaching. I don't feel compelled to say it because I'm a preacher, it's just true - I especially enjoy biblical history. I wish the History Channel had more programs about that and less about UFO's. Historical research is a lot more complicated than most people realize. One of the great mistakes historians tend to make is reaching conclusions based on too little evidence. It's also difficult to understand what evidence you have in it's proper context. For instance, a thousand years from now, some historian is going to conclude that 21st Century Americans were squeezing toilet paper, obsessed with a secret that someone named Victoria had, and went to restaurants that specialized in owls. Context is what gives meaning to past events. I'm relating this because I've been thinking about all the times doctrinal conclusions have be substantiated by extra-biblical accounts and other historical research. The argument usually sounds like this, "This was written by a second century church leader, who being that close to the original New Testament period - surely had a handle on what the first Christians did." The conclusion being that the pattern was in place and our job is to follow it. This is a critical argument in discussions about the Lord's Supper, music, the Lord's day, worship, and other things we tend to argue about. Two thoughts come to mind. First, how reliable is it to use what one group of Christians did nineteen hundred years ago as a conclusive example, when there were hundreds, even thousands of congregations all over the world by then? Can we call that an established pattern? And the other thought I keep having is, how do we know from looking at these Church Fathers writings what was "their tradition" and what was the continuation of a binding New Testament church pattern? The argument that they are so close is ludicrous. It takes only months sometimes to establish a tradition. In a couple of years, people start believing they've always done it. These writers are decades away from the first Christian churches. Just look how difficult it would be to have any sweeping conclusions about the Churches of Christ in 2006 when no two congregations do things the same way - let alone agree on anything! Yet for some reason we read what one second or third century church leader says and see that as validation for binding a practice or a conclusion. Hey - Corinth had some wrong traditions within a couple years of Paul starting the church there. Don't you love history? I do.

Friday, October 13, 2006

This is one of my favorite pictures from this years Colorado bowhunting trip. I've posted several (the live deer, the dead dear w/ live hunter, and the Colorado stormy sunrise), but this one is so classic. This was our twentieth year to bowhunt elk and mule deer in Meeker, CO and we all three were blessed with harvesting nice bucks. This is actually a picture of Brian's mullie strapped to the back of his ATV. For years we had to drive into town, find a phone booth, use the phone cards, and call home to tell them the good news, or on most occasions, the non-news. How typical of life's changes is it to see Kevin on his cell phone calling his family and Brian programming his (and I forgot what it's called but it does everything but field-dress deer) to take a picture to send to his family? We actually used our cell phones to talk to each other in the mountains because they had better reception than the walkie-talkies had. Talk about going to the mountains to "get away from it all," but we were just one speed dial away from any and every friend in the country. I even got a wrong number call from St. Louis one day while in a tree stand! And those ATV's - they are soooo much nicer than hiking up and down those mountains. They made each trip out to hunt a lot of fun even if we didn't see any animals! Have I mentioned that I love modern technology? I do - even though I spent thirty minutes on an awesome blog yesterday only to accidentally erase the whole thing while trying to get the crazy spell check to work on my home computer! Oh well, since I was writing about being thankful, I resisted the urge to punch my Dell flat screen. I was able to be thankful for the VERY CLEAR DISPLAY OF AN EMPTY BLOG POST! I never said I understood it - I just love it when technology works, or I work, or those tiny chips work, or whatever it is that has to work works. Praise God - He always works!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Marriage: Bottom Line!

The best part about being married is home-cooked meals, someone to pick up after you, and sex and time you want it! The best part about being a Christian is that God forgives me for telling such lies. I love home-cooked meals, but as empty-nesters, and having a wife who works harder than I do most day, I enjoy taking here out to eat 2 or 3 times a week. I don't need anyone to pick up after me because, as my kids will tell you, I'm a compulsive picker-upper and clean-freak on my own. And as for sex any time I want it, it's not anymore "all" my call than it is for any husband. The truth about marriage is older than the Word of God because marriage was around a lot longer than the written word. It's not any more a secret for us than it was for Adam and Eve. Just as true love (agape) is more a choice than a feeling, the key to a successful life-long relationship involves one of the most important choices of our lives. All the marriage films, seminars, and counseling sessions you will ever participate in will bring you back to the same foundational principle. I wrote this down on a little 3M sticker and stuck it in front of my computer several weeks ago. I'm looking at it "Yea verily" right now. It states "The single most important element in marriage is thoughtfulness." All relationships grow or fail based on our ability to think and appreciate the other person more than we do ourselves. People don't have financial, communication, and sexual problems from being thoughtful. Relationship problems come from pride and selfishness, which is really a redundancy if you think about it. Thoughtfulness; it's the part of relationship building that looks the most like Jesus. I wish there was space to elaborate, but I'll close with this thought. Not only is thoughtfulness the most important element in marriage, it's the key to our relationship with God. Think about it!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Something to chew on!

I'm still thinking about this Sunday's lesson. Here's the point: "What you see depends on where you sit!" I wrote about that in the last blog, but I keep having moments of reaffirmation every day. I was just at a meeting of ministers, whom I love and respect, but our devotional thought was about spending more time worshipping throughout the week rather than reducing it to one hour on Sunday. Sounds like something from one of my books, except I wouldn't define worship as any segment of a day any more than I'd describe our sacrifice to God as only being certain hours of our life. Here's the thought to chew on: are we not still sitting in the Temple when we continue to see Jesus as someone to be worshipped? Ha-Ha! That statement will only scare you if you still think of worship as a point-in-time bowing down and doing obeisance (proskuneo in Gr.) rather than a life lived in obedience to God (latreuo in Gr.). As long as we start with that Temple paradigm, we can always beat ourselves with guilt for the lack of time spent worshipping God. It's not about three or five times a day or even which days of the week - it's about living, seeking, and loving Him, and He says we do that by loving and serving one another! So here's the final blog-bite to chew on for today: Jesus never asked us to worship Him but to have a relationship with Him!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From Where I'm Sitting...

I had to stop my work on this Sunday's sermon for a few minutes. Partly because I'm hitting the 3 - o'clock-in-the-afternoon-wall that makes me want to take a nap, and partly because that same wall reminds me that just a few years ago, that wall didn't exist. You see, I'm working on a lesson about how our perceptions are often colored by where we are when we see things. I'm going to ask the question, "Where are you sitting spiritually?" I don't want you to suffer through a preview of that lesson, but I have been struck by the profound fact that we are constantly changing seats. If we're not, we're not growing. It's going to be fun to apply that to our church life in this Sunday's lesson. The truth of that fact, however, came home to me earlier today as I found myself saying at our staff lunch, "I can't believe it's the second week of bow season (for deer) and I haven't been out hunting yet!" I love bowhunting, but you know what? It just doesn't drive me like it used to. I still want to do it and, Lord willing, I should be out in the woods soon, but it just doesn't push my buttons like it use to. Watching God's creation come alive with the sunrise, silently observing wildlife that has no idea I'm watching, and just spending quiet time in a tree stand thinking, reflecting, and praying - I love it and hope God lets me do it for many more years. Still, as the years ooze by and the hair-line races back, my passion is for people. I truly love being with my church family. I live for Sunday. I get excited just thinking about seeing brothers and sisters hugging, laughing, and praising God together. I love my partners in the Gospel, my fellow ministers, shepherds, and workers who make going to work seem more like going to Thanksgiving every day! I love having the most amazing daughter of God I've ever known as my co-worker, friend, and wife of nearly thirty-four years. I love thinking about our children and their incredible spouses and thanking God for their faith, their ministries for Him, and their spiritual maturity. I don't even have to sit in a tree stand to reflect on four precious little grand children who make my heart ache to be so far away from them, but who fill me with joy as I think about their sweet faces and beautify spirits and about them growing up in the Lord. No, I'm not going to quit hunting with my bow for those illusive whitetail deer, but I just don't have to "get away" to remember how wonderful God has been to me. I kinda like my new seat. It's got a great view.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sacred "HOWS"

There is such comfort in "formula faith" because it gives ready, though supremely legalistic, answers to all doctrinal questions. We are taught to think of our sacred "Hows" as "the undisputed truth" for all rational thinkers, and quickly learn to spout them out in catechistic fashion. It's more than a cute pun to call them sacred "Hows" because they've become the definition of orthodoxy. More than that, they define us as a fundamental, evangelical, restoration religious movement! It's not that they are wrong - I have preached and still preach most of these things myself, just not the same way. The problem is that they are man-made, man-contrived, and man-driven! They promote self-righteousness, institutionalized faith, and forget the only thing that Jesus said proves we are His disciples. They're not formulas for loving one another, they are systematic theology, which has its place but does little to build a personal relationship with Jesus. They are steps to follow, which also has a place, but that promotes self-sufficiency when the need is to walk in His steps. Most of all, as correct as some "Hows" may be, they push seekers into legalistic thinking rather than connecting with the Spirit of Christ. "How to interpret the Bible?" Answer: "Look for three things; command, example, and implied inference!" Who decided that? It's never taught in the Bible! Okay, a command is obvious, but who and where is it ever taught that the second two where equal or on the same level as a command? When was the last time anyone in the church ever argued over a command? "How to become a Christian?" The five step plan of salvation - though neither the "five steps" or "plan of salvation" ever appears in the Bible and it's a stretch to see all five in any example of conversion (but of course we can assume....). "How to worship on Sunday?" The five "Acts of worship" must take place, though there's not a single example of an assembly in the New Testament where we see all five (but of course we can assume...). (Look at Acts 2, 20, and 1 Cor.10-14 for yourself.) Does anyone care that Sunday is never called "the day of worship" or even "the Lord's day" in scripture? Don't even start looking for "the five acts of worship" because worship IS NEVER AN EVENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH, IT'S A LIFE GIVEN TO GOD! (But I've already got three books about that!) Well, you get the idea I hope. I could add "How to structure church leadership?" and "How to do ministry?" and others that have been reduced, minimized, and legalized by man's formulas. Again, some of the conclusions are totally correct, but it becomes too easy to leave Jesus out - to leave spiritual relationships out! I love some "Hows," like how do you show the world that you are disciples of Jesus? "The world will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." How do you know you are a child of God? "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are; Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." (1 Jn.3:10) How do we know we have eternal life? "We know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers." (1 Jn.3:14) John doesn't have the neat steps or formula approach, but he sure sounds an awful lot like Jesus.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

WARNING! Radical Stuff!

I am presently reading two books that are talking about the nature of the church. Both are challenging most of the traditional thinking that drives our conclusions about what church is, and showing that most of it just doesn't come from the Bible. Yet even these radical books are not free from the temple/sanctuary paradigm that colors our conclusions. Our traditional view of "church" is so integrated into our culture, our history, and our thinking, that it may be impossible for large numbers of us to break free and see what the Word of God really teaches. I think it is one of the great paradoxes of Restoration promoters. Theoretically and philosophically we understand that "church" is any "called out" or "ekklesia" person. As a child of God, I am the church. When I'm with other Christians, we are the church assembled, but not any more THE church than when each of us are alone in our cars driving home. Every person from the Restoration heritage who has been in more than two Bible classes knows this and can give you the Greek word for church in their sleep. They've heard hundreds of sermons saying that "Church is not brick and mortar, but people who live for God!" Still, everyone, including the preachers who preached it, can not stop thinking of church as a structure, a building, a place to pilgrimage to three times a week (if you're faithful) and offer up one hour of "worship" to God, because it's the least you can do for Him after all He's done for you! What we know intellectually and biblically is disconnected from what we "feel" culturally. Because we start out with a time & place temple paradigm, we interpret scripture in the light of that paradigm. We don't read about New Testament Christians singing (Eph.5:19), we read about Christians establishing a pattern for "acts of worship" in the formal church service! We don't read about New Testament Christians using some simple elements of their meal together to remember Jesus, we see a sacrament, a religious ritual that is legally reserved for only a special place and time! And since "we are right," we couldn't possibly own up the the fact that we are more guided in our interpretation of the New Testament by a Catholic/cathedral heritage than we are by an honest Restoration heritage!
Let's go one step farther, not only is church not a building or a structure, it's not an organization or an institution. Every preacher used to be required to preach the "Three institutions of God" sermon. God gave the institutions of marriage, governments, and the church. Makes for a good three point sermon, but it's not taught in the Bible that way. Since when is a "body" an institution? Even if I give you the government as an institution, marriage is "one body"and nothing in any dictionary anywhere will equate "one body" with and institution. The church is not an institution for the same reason. We have to totally ignore God's metaphors in the New Testament. Have you ever thought about what it means for the church to be a body (1 Cor.12), the Bride of Christ (Eph.5), or the Family or household of God (1 Tim.3)? The church is not a business, a corporation, or a government with laws and charters. We are a living organism, a body, and a family! It's relational not institutional! We have had so many centuries of cathedrals, temples, sanctuaries, and church buildings that we can't see the simplicity of what God intended. Church is what we are - like worship! It means we belong to Him and are part of everyone else who belongs to Him. The church together, is not an institution, but simply a tool for building spiritual relationships, which is how we learn to love and serve Him. God knew we would need help as we sought to grow in godliness. In His tool box that gives us "all things that pertain to life and godliness"(2 Peter 1:3), relationships - Christian togetherness, is one of the tools He gave us to help make it happen. It's a tool, just like prayer, the Holy Spirit, the Lord's Supper, and several other awesome things He provided for our spiritual growth.
Bottom line: church is a tool for building spiritual relationships! How ironic is it that we usually don't have time for that on Sunday morning? Now read 1 John again and see if it doesn't make a whole lot more sense. If you're pushed for time, just read 1 John 3:23 and look at the only two things that John says are "His commands," and then explain why relationship building is optional or and extracurricular activity with most congregations!

Monday, September 25, 2006

God Is Good!

He's always good - even when we don't feel good or think we are having a good day. I'm writing this on a Monday morning (my official day off), it's beautiful outside, with just a touch of Fall in the air, and my biggest problem of the day is trying to decide whether or not to go hunting. Wow! Life is good - at least today - that's why I'm glad He is always good, because tomorrow may not be so lov-er-ly! So with things being so good, why not complain a little? I have some wonderfully controversial things about the nature of the church that I want to write about, but hey - this is Monday! I don't want to think that hard! I was just checking our emails and thinking how nice it is that so many folks write to us and share so many wonderful things with us. The emails that require a long wait as they download are a little bit frustrating - particularly when you're just wanting to do a quick check of the emails, but all in all I appreciate what folks send to us......However????? The quickest way to guarantee a quick punching of the delete key, is to get to the end of a forwarded anything and be challenged to "send this to five more people" if you "love your country" - "love your friends" - "love the Lord" - or for some reason need to prove that you are unashamed of all the above. What a load of cow patties! I appreciate the patriotic, the spiritually enriching, and the conservative concerns of all these articles, presentations, and paranoid postings! I agree with nearly all of them and enjoy reading them! But what gives anyone the right to try and dump some manmade guilt on me because I don't follow their techno-test of loyalty, faith, and friendship! Sorry, but pleasing God and enjoying his marvelous grace frees me from accepting unnecessary and unwarranted guilt created from someone elses imagination! I am fully capable of developing my own reasons for guilt and I've spent a lot of years trying to make sure that I only accept the guilt He sends so I can conform to His will - not the arbitrary will of well meaning advocates of postitions I agree with. So, don't take it personally if you discover that I didn't forward something you sent me or didn't receive something that you find out I was challenged to forward to you. My care for you is not defined by the silly requirements of others tests of loyalty. I read it, I enjoy it, and I appreciate it, but if it has a "prove your love" or a "show your patriotism" clause at the end of it - one click will take care of everything. Now, if the guilt of sin could just be taken care of that easily...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Living Proof

OKAY - so I'm living proof that someone with horrible spelling can still get published! I've written six books that are published and two others that should be and I'm in the middle of a new one now. Since I can't figure out how to make the spell check work on this blog stuff, everyone who logs on will discover that spelling is not one of my strong talents. I spell phonetically (is that right?) and so most of my ongoing mistakes are usually things like when to use double consonants and "ence" endings vs. "ance" ending and such - and a few hundred others... So, until my daughter or some other techno-helper can tell me why when I click the cute little icon that says "Spell Check" does nothing to help me, you'll have to read the "spirit" of my blog and not the "letter". How's that for a theological escape-clause?

So for now, please settle for this picture of a Colorado mulie (brother to the one whose antlers I am holding below) that really turned out beautiful. In fact, it's my new screen saver in place of the year and a half old family picture that was there. Sorry family - we're overdue a new one anyway.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Coincidence or Providence?

For some reason, Elizabeth and I both wrote about cigarette smokers in our blogs today. Within minutes of writing my blog, without anyone reading it, I got this picture sent to me by two different people. It's great! The title is "The Mural in the New Smoking Lounge". That's got to be a little inhibiting.

Morning Musings

I really enjoy my morning run/walks that I take every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It's my exercise for the week, but also my meditation time - at least one of them. It has been alittle difficult getting used to the heavy morning traffic on Shackleford Road as everyone is rushing off to work at that time of the morning. It can't be good to breathe in all those exhaust fumes as I run down the sidewalk, but such is modern life - right? To be honest, the human exhaust is worse than the engine exhaust. I'm talking about the cigarette smoke that blows from the windows of passing addicts. I've never been much of a "smoker basher," like a lot of preachers tend to be, because people have just as much right to kill themselves with tobacco as the rest of us do with overeatting! But at least overeatters don't stink up the air around them for thirty yards in all directions. It's amazing to me that so many have decided that cigarettte stink is socially acceptable. Personally, I think my Skunk Cover Scent that I've used while hunting smells better - especially in a restaurant while trying to eat - but I digress - there's just something about the spoiling of the fresh morning air that makes me sad. And, if I hadn't come away from so much of it in my past it might not be such a noticable and noxious smell. It really is such a small distraction, just hard to ignore. I see God's creation in such a special way early in the morning. The freshly cut corn fields look like His two-day-old beard. The golden bean fields remind me of a new 1965 shag carpet (remember Harvest Gold?), and the flocks of geese flighing overhead look like God's arrowhead zooming to a new azure target. I pass four church buildings and wonder if each is a family of God who are joyful, Spirit filled, and seeking a deeper relationship with Him. I ask myself, "Is my error better than theirs?" Will we meet at the heavenly chorus rehearsal and say, "How did we live so close to one another and yet never praise God together?" I'm glad God is bigger than my prejudices and traditions. I'm excited to know that His grace is surely much more inclusive than my conclusions. It's not just the sidewalk I'm walking on, I'm walking in the light of His love and being cleansed by blood that is greater than all my doubts and weaknesses. Now if I could just learn how to use the spell check......

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Welcome to the Twenty-First Century?

Okay - I've been known as a radical since my early preaching days in High School. I don't think of it as being "radical" as much as I think of it as "being on the cutting edge of change." When I wrote Spilt Grape Juice in the late eighties and it was published in '91, I was the only one proclaiming the New Testament doctrine of 24/7 worship. I was quickly marked "radical" again, and black-listed from many of our Brotherhood spotlight activities. Two more books on worship, both challenging all our traditional thinking on the subject, simply entrenched my position as one of the "radicals" or (and I love this label) "Change-agents" in the church. Praise God! I have no doubt whatsoever that Jesus would have been called both of those things by the Pharisees of His day if they had known such words were available. They're actually much nicer than most of the words they called Him. My point is not to rant about labels - though I probably will in the future, but to point out that while I may be a "free-thinking, change promoting, wild-eyed fearless iconoclastic radical" in religious circles, I'm a techno-wimp when it comes to blogging or using any new comupterized communication contraptions.

My kids program my phone for me (they're all married and in their late twenties but I call'em kids as a term of endearment- and to remind them that "I'm the Papa!"). Deborah put my pictures on my phone for me. Elizabeth took me by the hand and showed me how to download my digital camera into my computer. Jonathan had to hook up our widescreeen HDTV and DVD player. And of course, my lovely wife Donna, can program new phone numbers into my phone much faster than I can, so in my pitiful ignorance, I usually hand my phone to her and say, "Honey, could you put their number in my phone for me?" She always does because she's sweet and she knows what a techno-clutz I am.

So why start a blog? I don't know. I'm not even sure as I write this whether or not it will come up on a screen. But sometimes you gotta be courageous and trust the pixels. Actually, I've been thinking about it for a long time and after some encouragement from Elizabeth and my roomate of thirty-four years I decided to jump into the blog and see who cares! My plan for now is to just let it flow on whatever subject I feel like talking about that day. This is not a doctrinal debate blog or a political forum. I want to have fun, share thoughts, challenge some thinking, vent on things I may not preach about, and generally drop some melons from the cerebral tenth floor and see how they splatter. How's that for an intriguing metaphor. I really want to share, with anyone who wants to be part of it, my own journey in seeking a closer relationship with our Father and our best friend, Jesus Christ. I want Him to be pleased with whatever I blog about. He knows blogs! He did the first one in stone on Mt. Sinai and folks are still trying to delete it!

May this honor Him and encourage someone to seek Him. More later - if it works?