Friday, August 31, 2007

Heaven's Package

Yes, it's Friday, and I've been putting out a Top Ten list on Friday whenever I can. Sometimes they are biblically oriented and sometimes they are just plain silly. I usually have a couple Top Ten lists "in progress" in my journal on any given day, but today I had no such list to share. However, I did find myself thinking about the following - for some reason. Today's Top Ten is Ten things I hope will be part of heaven. Family and friends are obvious - duh! These are just some things I hope our Father might include. What would you add?

1. Historical replay screen (Awesome! God's History Channel!)

2. Coffee & Doughnuts

3. Mountains

4. Long talks with Bible characters

5. Bowhunting (How can you grill venison w/0 it?)

6. Thanksgiving (at least once a week)

7. Sunrises

8. Wild flowers

9. All kinds of music

10. Flying (w/o wings or planes - yes, like Superman)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Guilt and Doubt

Satan's most powerful tool is not getting godly people to do ungodly things, but getting godly people to distort godly things. For instance, guilt is good - when used the way God intended. It's the red flag in our heart telling us that something is wrong and we better get it fixed. It's God's built-in-warning-system. It tells us we're out of balance, taking on water, or slipping into something we shouldn't. While guilt is good, if we carry it once it's been forgiven and paid for by the precious blood of Jesus, it becomes faithlessness - our unwillingness to accept His grace. Satan loves guilt! Nothing works better on sensitive, conscientious, striving-to-be-perfect Christians than guilt. While, in one sense, we are always unworthy and always guilty, at some point we have to recognize that Jesus died and made us worthy and no longer guilty. That is an essential part of faith!

Doubt is the same way. It's a wonderful tool of discovery! It's a natural part of the whole seeking process. As we stand amazed at what God did, does, and is doing, we can't help but declare, "You've got to be kidding!" His love is so great, so uncompromising, so patient, and so sacrificial that we can't understand it, we're overwhelmed by it, and at times ask, "Is it for real?" The challenge of comprehending the spiritual world from bodies and minds that are physical, means that we will have doubts, but those doubts make us "hunger and thirst after righteousness" rather than become excuses to quit. When Satan gets a hold of doubts, like he did in the garden with Adam and Eve, he uses them to create a rationale for disobedience. That's when doubt is deadly.

A lot of folks are having a field day with the news about Mother Teresa's doubting faith. I find it ironic that the media people who have so little credibility and do little good are questioning the credibility of a person whose actions were the personification of good. My understanding of her doubts is that it was part of her seeking - her faith building. She certainly wasn't looking for a rationale to quit! Considering where she was working and the kinds of awful things she saw every day of her life, it's not any wonder that she might cry out like the prophet of old, "How long, O God, before you deliver us?" I certainly don't agree with every part of the believe system of her religious group, but I do believe in the preeminence of love, compassion, and mercy. These are the things God cares most about. Love covers sins - it sums up all the Law and the Prophets, and it's the single most valuable evidence that you know God, have God, and are saved by God.

I'd rather stand before God at Judgment having lived a life of loving others, but being doctrinally off target, than being doctrinally correct and in love with the theory of love. Just read I Corinthians 13:13 again and check out which of the big three are going to last. May there be no doubt about it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The FBA?

The Future Bowhunters of America!

What a great way to spend a day off. I got up early, loaded up one of my hunting stands into the back of the van, loaded up my Arctic Cat onto my trailer, and drove over to Hardin, IL to meet Danny Younger for breakfast at Mel's. We then went out to our new hunting spot, tied stands onto our ATV's, and set out to place our first hunting stands of the season on an incredible piece of hunting property surrounded by corn and soybeans, and crawling with deer. It's always harder work to put up a stand than I think it will be, but just to put it in place, and with sweat pouring off my brow, sit in it for a few moments and just imagine watching all the deer that will travel down the trails my stand covers - it's nice. It was especially exciting to realize what a beautiful scenic place it is. I can't wait to see the colors of fall blanket the hills and valleys of that part of IL. I can't wait to watch an early morning sunrise or even a sunset from the hilltop my stand is on. I couldn't help but think that most people have no idea what it's like to spend quiet time out in the country, on a deer stand, with no city noises or sounds anywhere, and just enjoy God's creation. What really makes it fun is when you have a hunting buddy to share it with. Not the stand time, but the pre & post hunt time. I've never spent time in a deer stand that I didn't have some kind of story to share after the hunt. Most of the time, the story doesn't even include a deer. It's just God's creation, and it's always good - like He is. I hope my grand kids can experience it with me sometime and learn to appreciate the peace that comes from learning how wonderful - and big - our Father's world is. And yes, I spent part of my day off with my beautiful wife. I even grilled chicken for our dinner tonight, and boy was it good. Not as good as Donna's marinated venison, but still good. Even if it hadn't been good, it's always a blessing to share another wonderful meal with my wonderful wife. (Who understands completely why I love to hunt! And everything else I do - for that matter.) If I kill it - she'll grill it! I think that'll preach!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Top Ten Reasons To Go Hunting

Two weeks from today, Lord willing, my hunting buddies and I will be on the road to Colorado for our annual ("once in a life-time") bowhunting trip. It was twenty-one years ago that we did this for the first time. Wow - I must have been about ten at the time! Anyway, I have often said that I have done my best communing with God while hunting the mountains or sitting a tree stand. I love the outdoors, the challenge of bowhunting, but most of all the fellowship of a shared experience. So with that in mind, I offer my Top Ten Reasons To Go Hunting. And these are, somewhat, in ascending order (with one being the top - haven't you watched Letterman?).
10. I heard there was going to be weather!
9. Can't dance! (And don't watch shows that do!)
8. Can't "stay" and hunt!
7. My bow is lonely?
6. I woke up this morning and dawn suddenly dawned on me!
5. There are no politicians in the woods! (Just up the creek!)
4. It's safer than being on the road with all the young female stars being released from prison for DUI.
3. The planets are in perfect alignment - DUH!
2. John Wayne would!
1. I'm breathing!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Some Worry Words for Young Preachers

I was reading John 10 the other day and some thoughts came to my head.

In the nearly three and a half decades that I have been in full-time ministry, I can't remember a time that a truly felt underpaid. Were there times that I'd have appreciated a raise? Of course, but for the most part, churches and shepherds have been very good about taking care of us through the years. I say all that as a disclaimer to anyone who might get the idea that I'm a disgruntled, underpaid preacher as you read the rest of this blog.

In my opinion, one of the greatest obstacles to preachers and elders functioning as a united leadership team is the fact that the preacher's salary comes from the budget of the church. I believe that the employer/employee cloud hangs over the heads of the leadership in even the best of situations. The power of the purse is an influence that sticks it's ugly head up and is used by Satan to hurt relationships, turn spiritual leaders into politicians, and make humble men thirsty for control. I am so thankful to work with humble, godly men, who are not interested in controlling things, but in being controlled by Christ. This is not a complaint but an observation. I can truly see Paul's wisdom in refusing to place a salary burden on a congregation (at times, but not every time) and removing something that could prove to be a wedge in his relationship with them or his ability to minister to them. It seems to have depended on the spiritual maturity of the people he was working with, because he clearly accepted and received financial support and care from several churches. But, there were times when he felt it was better to make tents and provide his own salary. Maybe it was a matter of who would be indebted to whom! The only thing he wanted to owe anyone was the gospel and love.

I still remember preaching a lesson on John 10 about Jesus being the Good Shepherd and how different He said that was from being a hired hand. I made the point that a minister, spiritual leaders, were supposed to be like Jesus - good shepherds - and we were not hired hands. Not long after that, a friend, who was recently appointed to be an elder, calmly disagreed with me. He declared that ministers where hired hands, employees, who served at the pleasure of the elders. Without trying to judge him, I can't help but wonder if most members don't really think the same way? They may never say it out loud, but their willingness to treat their minister as a disposable employee when it's convenient, driving hundreds out of ministry, and contributing to a radical decline in the number of those training to do ministry may speak louder than any vocal opinions on the matter.

Sure there have been plenty of people who should never have gotten into full-time ministry and sure there are plenty of church leaders who are ruthless politicians and not godly shepherds, but what about helping and encouraging a minister to grow into that Christ-like good shepherd he needs to be - working through problems - communicating - and seeing him as a leader you can grow together with instead of a hired hand to be dumped and replaced by another hired hand? It might be nice if we could all be tent makers and do ministry "on the side," but I'm afraid in today's culture, careers don't leave much room for significant "on the side" stuff! Especially when the "on the side" stuff involves the eternal destination of many souls.

There are ministers who are hired hands, but for those who are truly seeking to imitate Jesus, to call or think of them as hired hands is to cheapen the indwelling of Christ - both in them and in the caller.

Monday, August 20, 2007

That's Entertainment!

As hard as it is to believe right now - we'll soon be complaining about the cold.

High School Musical 2 is on our DVR, so we will be seeing it today sometime, but I first have to say that Hairspray was fun. We went to see it last week and it far exceeded my expectations - especially in terms of just being a blast to watch. The music and movements (choreography - formerly known as dancing) was incredible. It has a great message about past racism, but it's truly funny and wonderfully entertaining. For those of us who clearly remember '62, it brings back lots of memories that have been tucked away for awhile. And I have to say that John Travolta was a great overweight socially inhibited 60's mom. Like I say, it's just fun.

And speaking of entertaining, several years ago I read Steve Chapman's book, A Look at Life from a Deer Stand, and truly enjoyed it. In fact, I pasted it on to several hunter friends. His lessons-learned were all things I've thought about - in deer stands, and was glad to find out that others did to. Steve is a Christian singer, song writer, speaker, and most of all bowhunter, who has written several books. Anyway, I just finished Another Look at Life from a Deer Stand and it was equally as good as the first. I love to read people who say things I've been saying for years. He had a great statement about performing rituals and being driven by patterns that was right on the money. I love it - he said, "Ultimately, Satan would prefer that 'devotion' be our god, not God be our devotion." Wow! How true and how sad! That was worth the price of the book. And he's in Nashville! Can someone in Nashville get away with saying stuff like that?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Top Ten Non-Sermons

Just for fun last night, I jotted down a new Top Ten list. These are all somewhat off the top of my head things and I'm sure I'd do much better if I gave it more thought. Nevertheless, again - just for fun, here is my Top Ten for this week. The Top Ten Sermons That Should Never Be Preached (thankfully it's not ten that shouldn't have been preached!).
1. Why Your Preacher Is worth His Salary! (Scripture optional)
2. Lessons Learned from Onan (See Gen. 38 if you dare)
3. What's Wrong With Our Elders? (Good career change lesson)
4. Why Did God Decide on Circumcision? (Tons of scripture, by the way)
5. Judah & Tamar: The Art of Relationship Building (See Gen.38 again)
6. Not's In the Devils Tale! (An unfortunate classic from Gen.3)
7. Acappella People Waiting For That Last Trumpet! (I love irony)
8. Give Me That Old Time Temple Worship! (Our deniable reality)
9. Forsake Not The Assembly - Love Optional! (Our deniable reality)
10. What The Holy Spirit Told Me Last Night? (Sermonus Interruptus - fast)

This may need a Part 2 - so any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Optional Love?

Remember the country music song about "Looking for love in all the wrong places"? As sad as that is, it's not as sad as someone who doesn't even look for love. There is no bigger theme in all of the Bible than love. It's God, it's why He made us, why He sacrificed and saved us, and the single most important thing He wants us to understand and grow in. It defines us, drives us, guides us, and judges us. How can so many people read so much scripture so many times and still never see the preeminence of love. It's not something we do - it's what we are - how we look at each other - how we know we know Him - it's our worship. There is nothing more important, no activity more required, and no quality more desired by God. How many times do we have to hear God say that EVERYTHING is summed up, hanging onto, and subordinate to loving Him and one another before we "get it"? Since God is love and the only way we can learn love is to love one another, there is no other way to know God and be like God.

We attended the Muny on Monday night and saw Les Miserables. What a powerful play. The story is so compelling and every piece of music and lyric so dramatic that it has to be one of the greatest musicals ever. As one who is fascinated by lyrics/wording - a phrase from the closing number jumped out at me. "When you love someone, you have seen the face of God." That is not an overstatement. It's exactly what John says in 1 John 4:11-12. Loving one another - THE REASON GOD TOLD US TO GET TOGETHER - gives us the only opportunity to know God. It's not about the place, the time, the rituals, or the correct pattern! It's about growing in love and therefore growing in God! It's time to start looking for love in all the right places!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Vacation in Kentucky

As mentioned in the last blog, we spent a week being with all of our family and enjoyed every minute of it. We haven't ALL been together since last November, so it was especially nice to be a complete family again. It's getting harder and harder to find a time and place when everyone can meet and spend some time together. Distance, school, job requirements, and a score of other things to juggle are going to make it even more difficult in the future. But that's life! We are all changing, growing, and expanding our lives in many ways. What counts most is knowing that each person is deeply connected to God and growing spiritually. So, when we do get to be together, we will laugh a lot, eat too much, thank God even more, and appreciate the blessings of being a loving family and having soooo many wonderful memories to share. It was really tough to pick the two pictures above from the one hundred and fifty plus that we took of our family vacation, but there's only so many that can be placed in a blog. And this is the only "family" group picture we took - just before Jonathan and Holly had to leave. It was so wonderful to see them since they had to jump through so many different hoops to just get off work for part of the week. Every night Donna and I ask God to take care of Pat, Deborah, Joshua, and Caleb, and Chad, Elizabeth, Carter, and Ashlyn, and Jonathan and Holly. And we have already added Curtis Michael. God answers prayer and the vacation together was truly icing on the cake. God is good!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Parting Shots

We had a visit from Denny Crane again the other day. I love watching him hunt for fish. He is one of the most patient hunters I've ever seen. I especially liked this view of the double Denny.

I've known that deer came to our pond regularly, but it's usually at night. I see tracks on the other side all the time. We were home for lunch this week on a really hot day, and I just happened to glance out the back and see this doe with her twins getting a quick drink. This was at high noon! The dots on the fawns mean they've only been in this world since probably May or early June.

It will be a week before I do a new blog. Tomorrow we leave for a family vacation and will be with ALL our kids and grand kids for the first time since last November. Mostly we haven't seen Jonathan and Holly since then. I believe that's the longest we've ever gone without seeing a member of our family. So, needless to say we will be enjoying some great family time and I will be away from this computer. I'll leave you with a picture of Donna's latest cake creation that she did today for a groom's cake. Have I mentioned lately how incredible she is? It's red velvet underneath the camo. Yummmm! I could wear that!

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Wishful Top Ten

Well, after a couple of radical Top Tens, I think it's time for a "less than serious" list. A while back I said I was compiling a list of the Top Ten places I wanted to visit before Heaven. Not that they are a higher priority than Heaven, but it's just a wish-list of places I'd like to see or experience. Maybe it will help you think of places you'd like to go. These are not necessarily in order of preference or of when I will try to see them.

1. Africa: one of these days I hope to bowhunt in the Dark Continent. (Ready Kev?)

2. New Zealand: they have Red Stag - Duh! (Ready Jonathan?)

3. Banff, Canada: I can't wait to see the Canadian Rockies.

4. Hawaii: Who doesn't? By the way, there's some great bowhunting there.

5. Mediterranean: Athens? Greek Islands? History galore? I'm thinking a 12-14 day Princess Cruise in 2010. (Start saving)

6. Israel: Two of my biggest interests in life, Bible & History - Duh!

7. Costa Rica: I don't know - just seems like an interesting place. I love the mixture of mountains and beaches and an awesome constant mid-range temperature.

8. Quebec: Let's see caribou, whitetail, & bear - which one first?

9. Tahiti: Paradise? Who doesn't want to see that?

10. Normandy, France: I just want to walk the beaches and the fortifications and remember, imagine, and be thankful.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Self-esteem By God

Be careful where you put the emphasis when you read that title. I've been saying for years that the only place we can get balanced self-esteem is from God. Mankind is to inconsistent even in the best of relationships for us to get our self worth from them. Ego, selfishness, jealousy, and some other ugly personality traits that many have are a recipe for crushing others feelings about themselves. Grace - wonderful, beautiful, godly balanced grace - is the only thing that can place our self judgment exactly were it must be. We are worthless sinners, deserving of Hell - but, at the same time, because of God's love and the price He was willing to pay for us - we are the most valuable part of all His creation! How incredible is that? I've been searching for a simple way to say that for a long time now. I guess the Spirit finally stepped in and helped me out last Sunday as I finally figured it out. Here it is - what we are, balanced between the nothingness of sin and the treasure of the only Son of God - WE ARE WORTHLESS VIPs! Doesn't that say it all? It gives the ugly picture of worthlessness, but by God's grace we are truly VIPs with nothing to brag about - only a story to share. I'm seriously considering getting a T-shirt made that says A Worthless VIP so people will ask me what that means. Create curiosity! "Boy, I'm I glad you asked!"