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.