Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Learning To Read - Again

I've been reading Isaiah in the morning. Not a lot, maybe 4 or 5 chapters at a time, but here's what amazes me. I enjoy it! Yes, I've read it many times in the past and even taught it and preached from parts of it, but honestly - it has always been an uncomfortable chore. I guess it made me feel better about not studying Ezekiel very often. I never enjoyed reading about God's anger and poor Isaiah having to do all kinds of weird things get those folks to wake up. It's all still there, but now I see God's patience and his providential work as He carried out His plan to redeem the world. I see - and understand - His holiness being revealed.
You see, I always thought that reading the Bible was what good Christians did! I wanted to be a good Christian - so I read! When I read just to be reading, I rarely enjoyed it, revelled in it, or sat in awe of it. In sermon prep I cheered when I discovered things - things I could preach and help others understand, but just reading...for the sake of reading? Tough! Burdensome. Increasing knowledge but not love - helping to puff up and not always build up? Ouch. Reading God's Word is not just something we do to become better - more righteous, Christians! There is only one way that reading the Bible truly becomes a feeding frenzy and that's when we've truthfully answered the most important question in all out life. How can I know God better? If our heart is seeking God, his message is exciting, joyful, and amazingly simple! Without the seeking - prayer, study, attendance, and good deeds become works of self-righteousness to impress others not God. But when it's all about wanting a deeper relationship with the Father, you hang on every word, you see His unchanging character, and you are overwhelmed by his never ending love for unholy man. It's the difference between reading a historical document from a total stranger and reading a love letter from Dad.
When I read Isaiah I'm looking for God and I see a different book than I used to see. I see a Holy Father who desperately loves his unholy children. How can you not want to know some ONE like that?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Top Ten False Teachings

When passages of scripture go from being used as proof-texts to being true messages from God, you see them differently. Much of my early Biblical training was based on defending the truth (i.e. our version of orthodoxy) and had it's foundation in fear, paranoia, and exclusivism. When I started asking myself, "What are the spiritual principles that God wants me to glean from this?", I discovered a whole new message. When you stop looking for those mysterious patterns, those jigsaw puzzles that God hid throughout the sixty-six books, you start seeing a God who is seeking a relationship with us not a God who sends us on a spiritual treasure hunt.

I say all that to simply point out that his TOP TEN list of passages I taught incorrectly in the past are just the ones that jumped into my head first. The list is much longer. Praise God for his patience, kindness, and mercy. So - here they are with brief explanations. If you don't know these verses for memory you could be disfellowshipped - or made the new deacon of Adult Education at your church.

1. John 9:31 This is an uninspired speaker and YES - God does hear the prayers of sinners!

2. Eph.5:19 (or Col.3:16) This is not church or even the Christian assembly, and certainly NOT one of the five "acts of worship". If it points to something invisible being wrong - then it's wrong all the time, anywhere!

3. Acts 20:7 A simple verse about Christians getting together for a fellowship meal with Paul is not the "hallmark" verse for "going to church," Sunday being the "Lord's day," or for the Lord's Supper being a Sunday sacrament.

4. 1 Thess.5:19 I didn't mean to put the Spirit's fire out.

5. John 4:24 This does not mean that what we do on Sunday morning is "Correct" so we MUST be worshipping God in Spirit and in truth. Jesus' whole point that was that worship would NO LONGER be defined by a place and time (i.e. Temple worship or church worship).

6. 1 Cor.14:33-35 This has nothing to do with "the role" of women in the church and everything to do with "let everything be done to edify".

7. 1 Cor.14:40 With all the crazy stuff happening there with prophesy and tongues - shame on those of us who used this to justify fighting anything new or any changes at all.

8. Eph.3:10 We can't even discuss what the "church" is supposed to do anymore because we've institutionalized it to the point that there is no more personal responsibility. If "The Church" doesn't organize a program or ministry to "make it happen" the failure is "The Church" not me. I am THE CHURCH! I will answer for ME not the family I meet with several times a week.

9. 1 John 4: 12 We don't meet God on Sunday morning! We see him, know him, and have him in us ONLY to the extent that we love one another! Satan says it's optional - we believe him, and make growing in love an extra-curricular church activity!

10. Matt. 18:20 PLEASE don't use this passage to teach that Jesus is present when 2 or 3 meet together in his name! ("If you miss Sunday church you miss a chance to be with Jesus!") That violates the indwelling of Christ and his promise to be with us! The context is totally the idea that if we resolve relationship problems his way - he's with us! Maybe that's why we so rarely resolve problems his way. We have Him going to church instead of leading us to do what's right!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Shut de door..."

Talk about a trip down "Memory Lane"! Last week at our retreat, Keith sang with Acappella and they sang all the old songs from their original concerts and tapes. Wow! I had so many pictures flash through my head as they sang each song. Pictures of our adult children when they were tiny kids, pictures of being on trips and listening to those songs, and even a picture of going to their concert in the Washington, D.C. area about - what? - twenty plus years ago? It was a neat blessing and a unique experience to hear those old - and at the time exciting and radical -songs. A big thanks to Keith and the guys for doing it for all us "old folks" who walked around singing those songs back then. By the way, the group is awesome. I think they are as good of singers as they have ever had, and they really seem to be quality Christian young men. I pray that God will bless their ministry. I hope you get a chance to hear them.
Lord willing I'll post my Top Ten on Friday. Ten passages of scripture that I have taught incorrectly in the past. Actually, I'm glad it's only a Top Ten. I'm afraid of how big the list COULD be.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday Ramblings

It's Monday morning after being gone most of last week on a retreat and spending the weekend trying to catch-up, get-up, and speak-up, so it's nice to relax and vegetate awhile. Donna just left for another trip to Searcy to see her Dad, who just had his first chemo treatment this past Friday. I really wish I could be going down there with her, but I'm way behind in things to do and she's carrying enough guilt for us both about not being here to get her Children's ministry stuff done. It's tough being responsible. I literally had to talk her into going - that it was the right thing to do, and I feel confident the folks here will completely support her. I'm sure it won't be the last trip. So, I'm praying for her safe return as I also pray for our Father to heal her father.
Just a couple of random ramblings. First, no - I haven't read the latest Harry book, but I plan to see his latest movie today - if I can. I did, however, finish Dean Koontz's latest book, The Good Guy, and really enjoyed it. He's really mellowed out since his earlier books and does a wonderful job of making you love the "good"guys in this story. Intriguing start. Guy in a bar is mistaken by someone as a "hit man" and has an envelope of money handed to him and minutes later the real killer comes in and mistakes him as the "pay-off" man. In between the two strangers, he's "taken" with the picture in the money envelope of the girl to be murdered. He can't go to the cops, because it appears that the killer is one. What would you do? An interesting and thought provoking read.
Second ramble - I got to thinking about being a false teacher last week. Oh - not that I want to be - but, because of spiritual growth, I realized I've taught things in the past that I don't believe now. In fact, they were wrong things to teach. I guess I was a baby false teacher (?). Anyway, Lord willing, my next TOP TEN is going to be ten scriptures that I taught incorrectly in the past. Ouch! I wonder how many I'm teaching wrong now. Thank you God for grace!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Retreat to fight another day!

"Wild Hogs?"
We are on the attack again. I guess that's what one should say after returning from a "Retreat". We were with some very dear friends and wonderful children of God in Paris, TN this past week and it is always one of the high-points of our year. I wish I could play a recording of some of the singing we enjoyed there. It's not THAT different from the kind we get to enjoy every week at Florissant, but the passion is so strong and the joy is so real - and uninhibited - that it's truly like a cold drink of water that refreshes you to the soul. There are a lot of folks we feel blessed to know and renew our love with there each year, but this year I found myself really thinking about how interesting it is that I have been "somewhat reunited" with two great brothers who are very much responsible for my career as a minister of the Gospel. Sam Kitchings was the preacher at the Dasher Church of Christ, just across the street from Georgia Christian School, where I lived and attended from '64 until graduating HS in '70. Sam was my Bible teach at GCS - every day - for my last three years of school. He was a tremendous influence on me, taught me stuff I still use today, and mostly - encouraged me to use my talents in service to God. Once I got to Harding University, at least during my second year there, Jerry Jones came back from doctoral work, to resume teaching in the Bible Dept. and soon, to be it's head. I was in his first preaching classes, which didn't exist until he started them. As a teacher, he taught me the value of expository preaching - literally preaching through revealing scripture in context - and formed my preaching for the rest of my life. He inspired and guided me - and I think threatened a couple times - to have a deep passion for sharing God's message through this beautiful act call preaching. I've never lost that passion, but built on it through the years. We stayed in touch every now and then, but he was there during our worst days in TN, when I couldn't understand why or how we could be so hurt when we were trying so hard to serve God. He was there! Then he was very responsible for making sure that Florissant knew about us and we knew about them.

Well, these two guys are best of friends! Attended Harding together and have stayed close through the years! I never knew that until I went to this retreat four years ago. And among their less memorable shared efforts was molding a kid from Southeast Washington, D.C. into a gospel preacher. I'm so thankful for them both. Even though we've spent most of the last thirty-plus years passing one another only occasionally, I know they are among the many I will always be indebted to. I am what I am and where I am by the grace of God, but part of that grace was manifested in godly people like Sam and Jerry whom he placed in my life. It's good to be reminded that none of else "did it on our own."

Thank you Father for the people you put in our lives to guide us, push us, and show us how to walk with you. You're not only patient and loving - but you have a huge staff of servants to carry out your will. Help me not to forget my assignment.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Ultimate?

The ultimate hunting stand - or is it really hunting? I've had these pictures, and others like them, sent to me several times. Looks like a great vacation spot, and yes, a luxury gun stand, but to a bowhunter it has no relevance at all. Still, a neat idea.
Last night we got to enjoy some testimonies from our teens and sponsors who just got back from their Trek to Colorado. We prayed for them to have a "peak experience" with God, and they did. It was so thrilling to hear their stories of hard lessons learned and hard hearts softened. Like the ultimate hunting stand, it was the ultimate spiritual experience for them. It brought back memories of the feelings I had as a teenager after attending a wonderful retreat, seminar or short mission trip. I remember feeling "so high" spiritually, and being so worried that it wouldn't last - and it never did. Oh it was an integral part of my spiritual maturing process, but I still clearly remember the frustration of how shallow it was and mostly - how temporary it became. I wish I had known that a walk with God isn't just about peak or ultimate experiences - as great as they are, but it's about doing the day to day, even hour to hour things that build a relationship. Because that's what this faith thing is all about! It's drawing closer to God, feeling his presence, knowing he's as real as your spouse, parents, and friends. An "experience" is only beneficial for the long term if it encourages the on-going prayer life, study, meditation, and fellowship that contributes to a relationship. "Zeal without knowledge" isn't enough, and knowledge "without love" is worthless. I guess the simple lesson I'm making is that an ultimate stand doesn't make someone a hunter and the ultimate spiritual experience doesn't make a person walk closer to God. It's a great tool that can do a great service, but it can't take the place of a growing and loving relationship.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Top Ten Discoveries

I thought it would be fun to think about the Top Ten Spiritual discoveries I've made since becoming a Christian back in 1965. Just looking at that sentence makes me cringe a little. "I've discovered?" Hmmm? Maybe God had a lot to do with those "discoveries". I am humbled when I think of how he as led me, guided me, and mostly been patient and forgiving to me. Anyway - here they are. I throw them forth with full knowledge that most are not earth-shaking, the list (especially one with ten points) would be different tomorrow or yesterday, and to some folks - they sound heretical. These are biblical principles that anyone who knows there Bible at all can see - discover - or prove, if that's what pushes your button. Feel free to take issue with any. All complaints should be made to 1-800-Holy-Spirit.

1. The patience and loving kindness of God. I've always known it in theory, but it did not impact me until I realized how much I've needed it through the years. God is good!

2. It must not be an empty cliche' - a relationship with God is really what it's all about, and it's what He has always wanted. We must pursue Him like any other relationship!

3. Life is all about who you love and who loves you back. The rest is a distraction.

4. Prayer is the single most important element in building faith, and therefore, a relationship with God. It's not one of the things (i.e. acts of worship) it's THE thing - communication! There is NO relationship without communication, whether it's spouses, friends, brothers, or God!

5. Grace! The ultimate description of God's love and God's providence.

6. Seeking! The single most important thing God is looking for in our hearts. Grace is about direction nor perfection! (one of the most consistent themes in all the Bible)

7. Church is not an institution, but a tool to help us love one another and build relationships with one another and God! The temple paradigm has destroyed God's paradigm of home & family.

8. The New Testament Christians never met to worship. Worship is pleasing God with your heart and your life. Our altar is 24/7!

9. The single most important element in consistent godly living is being aware of the presence of God. Nothing does that better than an open prayer life (which is building a relationship with God).

10. Nothing builds an open prayer life like thankfulness. We can rise no higher spiritually than our level of thankfulness. Have you ever considered the connection between thankfulness and thoughtfulness?

I have about fifty more, so this really isn't the Top Ten, but they have been life changing for me. Just try to be around me for very long and not hear me say something about at least one of the above. The biggest thing that concerns me is wondering how many things I've missed! Oh well, they can't be as incredible as grace. God is good!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One Hundred Blogs

According to my blog account, this is blog 100 for me. Wow! It hasn't even been a year and I've hit the century mark. It's amazing how quickly time flies - or maybe I just write a lot more than I thought. One hundred - what strange thoughts and images it brings to mind. Jesus used it to talk about how important the one was, at least for the moment, over the ninety and nine. I like one hundred when it's connected to Benjamin Franklin and printed by the US Mint. I'm not sure about one hundred when it comes to birthdays. I'm coming up on fifty-six and can't imagine being around another forty-four years, but hey, if it's what God wants, who am I to resist. I've never really thought much about the old "growing old gracefully" saying, but isn't that what every Christian does, regardless of their age? Still, aging in Christ is a very beautiful thing. Today I have spent time in prayer over two very special brothers who are both the epitome of graceful aging - and by that I mean growing in the grace of God and it shows! In Searcy, my father-in-law, Dean Curtis is suffering with some serious intestinal problems and facing chemo treatment for cancer. In St. Louis, a brother, friend, and shepherd is in the hospital with his own intestinal problems, and also recovering from cancer treatment. Lowell Beauchamp and Dean, are close to the same age and have both served the Lord as shepherds for most of their life. I don't know if God wants them to see their one hundredth birthday, but I do know that they are godly men with wonderful families, and are both men of character, integrity, and grace. So maybe it's fitting that my one hundredth blog make a special request of any who read this to lift these two brothers up in your prayers. I feel confident that one hundred prayers will do a lot more good than my one hundred blogs.

Father, please heal these two brothers. Comfort their loved ones, and place these two warriors back in the battle. Thank you for letting them be examples for me, and thank you for answering this request. Thank you Jesus and Holy Spirit for helping. Amen.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pondering Parenting

It's still kinda strange watching your children be parents. I know we were good parents. I've kicked myself too many times about the first year or so that I was a Police Chaplain, back in Fairfax, VA, because it did take me away from our three children a couple nights a week - and while it (Police Chaplain) was filled with life memories that still amaze me, it wasn't worth missing out on even a few hours of my kids. There wasn't too many things that happened in their lives that I missed those months, but it's just the fact that you can't get them back. One chance is all you get, and molding those lives is the most important thing a parent will ever do. I have wonderful memories of being a parent. Of course, it helped to have the worlds best mom as my partner - Miss "I've never met a child who didn't think I was cooler than air" Donna. And what a blessing that is! Still, in spite of my self-slapping, I was there. I didn't miss many nights of singing and praying with my kids. Memories of bedtime Q&A competition with all three curled up against me as I came up with Bible story questions to throw at them, or four of us crammed in the rocking chair singing VBS songs. Yes, Donna was an incredible mom, and I was a pretty good dad, who got even better as they got older. But now, as I watch Deborah and Pat, and Elizabeth and Chad, as parents, I'm amazed at what fantastic parents they are. They are committed parents, smothering their children with love, but giving clear direction, values, and focus on God. I admire their patience and calmness in allowing kids to be kids, and not losing sight of the important things in life. I am so thankful for their faith in God that I see being passed on to their children. Just like we did, but better. I guess that's the way it's supposed to be, because tomorrow, they'll be the ones watching their children be parents. Maybe the ripple-effect of parenting is a lot more important than we think.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Boys Toys

We had our Senior Sunday last night. It's when we, as a church family, take a little time to recognize and honor our graduating seniors who are going off to college and leaving the Youth Ministry they've been part of, some for all their teen years. It's nice to share this experience and make it clear to them that they are part of a bigger family. We care about them, we've helped them learn about and draw closer to God and Jesus, and we want them to know that we'll always be there to help and encourage them. Still, as I watched the expected slide show with pictures of each graduate from diapers to diploma, it was fun, but no one has the same feelings as each of the parents who are just barely able to grasp what this change means for their family. Each picture that appears isn't just an image, it's a skip to a scene on "Life's" DVD. You remember the sounds and the laughter. You're taken back to a time that will never happen again and it saddens you - but fills you with joy because it's a wonderful memory. Mostly, it reminds you that seventeen or eighteen years just zoomed by - never to be repeated, never to be edited, and never to be done better. What's left - well, it's all ahead. How long? How many changes? How many Power Point slide show-reruns and flashbacks? How many new memories yet to be made? Hey, tomorrow it will be your adorable baby watching a graduation Power Point of their how-did-they-get-so-big-so-quick-child being honored at a church Senior Sunday.

Some people think about stuff like that and they go buy the Harley or the Corvette they never got to own when they were young. Me, well I just bought an Arctic Cat 400 4x4 ATV and went riding through the woods and corn fields. If I'm not back in time for the grandkids' Senior Sunday, it's because I got it stuck somewhere and I'm kicking myself for not having a wench on it yet.