Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Wine in old Whineskins?

My brother sent me this drawing. I always knew they were "closet bikers"!

Obviously, things are not always what they seem to be, but sometimes that's true just because we're looking for the wrong things. I have been amazed at how my perspective on the Word of God has changed through the years. For too many years it was my "proof" book - my ammunition to shoot down the doctrinally misled and to bolster the acceptable orthodoxy of my group. Then it became a treasure - a pearl of great price, that I examined, polished, and started discovering the richness of God's Spirit all through it. I shook off some old baggage and discovered some new wine that needed to be place in a new heart-shaped wineskin. And when I started looking for Jesus - not at Him or about Him - but Him, what the Spirit was wanting me to see in every verse of every book in the Bible, it turned into a brand new Book. Did you realize that 1 Corinthians is about Jesus? The book that has been the battle ground for so many issues in the church - so many divisions, is really about forgetting our differences and focusing on Jesus. How ironic is that? How sad is that?

Two things that will change forever how you read scripture: 1) Always look for Jesus. What is the writer saying about Him? What is the Spirit really pointing to? What do you need to take away from the passage that will help you have "the mind of Christ"? 2) Remember how tough this all must have been for God. What? If you just consider how incredibly difficult, even impossible is must have been for God to communicate spiritual concepts, spiritual truths, and even the spiritual world, to folks who are totally worldly - you realize that we were never meant to understand everything. That is why the basics of what God wants - has aways wanted- is and has been wonderfully simple. Love Him with all our heart and love our neighbor as we love our self. It's there, in print, simple as can be - from cover to cover. Eternity, the end of time, what's going to happen, what we will look like, what will heaven be like, what is a perfect spiritual body, etc, etc...are all things that we probably can't comprehend even if He gave us more information. Did you ever notice John 3:12 while on your way to verse 16? Jesus said to Nicodemus, "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" Match that with the total mix-up of wisdom vs. foolishness in 1 Corinthians 2-3 and you begin to see that "We were never meant to get it all!" How can limited power, time, and space understand limitless power, time, and space? What we know about the nature of God wouldn't fill a celestial thimble! But it's enough! Enough to know, believe, live, be godly, and build a relationship with One who gave it all to us. Enough to see His Word as the love letter, marriage license, and life-guide He meant for it to be.

Yeah, it - the Book - hasn't changed a lick, but praise God I have. I can't wait to see what I'll discover next!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Moods & Movies

This is the time of the year when we have what is probably the longest stretch of being away from our family. We haven't seen our kids and grand kids since Christmas. When I realized that my schedule wasn't going to allow any trips for a long while, I suggested to Donna that she might go to Nashville alone so at least one of us would get to see some family. So she left yesterday afternoon, after our first meeting of the musical cast and first read through of the script. I'm jealous, but happy that she could go. I really don't like long stretches of not seeing our loved ones - especially those grand kids. At their age, two or three months is huge in terms of changes in their lives. I can tell just by seeing their pictures on Deborah's and Elizabeth's blogs that they have grown a lot just since Christmas - especially little Curtis. He's already starting to look like a little person rather than a bundle of joy. And then there's the two in New York, who we have been trying to figure out a way to visit, but schedules, costs, and large blocks of time just haven't worked to make that a reality yet. I guess it would be nice to be rich an retired, but frankly, I dearly love what we are doing. I've never felt more a part of God's plan in my entire life than I do right now. I feel like the last thirty-something years were all part of His preparing us to be right here, right now. So, while I dislike being away from our family, I am deeply thanking to be where we are and doing what we are doing. Still, while I miss my favorite co-minister, I'm glad the grand kids get to spend a little time with Nana. She's a lot more fun than Papa, and I know it won't be too much longer until they all can visit St. Louis.
Since Donna was gone last night. I watch God's And Generals again. I loved it. It's long and has some painfully slow spots, but the historical accuracy is wonderful. The battle scenes make my blood run cold, especially Fredericksburg. As terrible as they depicted it, it was much, much worse. The carnage was incredible as thousands of Union troops, wave after wave, assaulted entrenched confederates, behind stone walls, shooting down hill. The Union troops were dropped by the thousands. How in the world did Lee watch that and then do what he did at Gettysburg?
I share this just to say that there are some scenes in God's And Generals that just grab my heart. I'm talking about the passion for God and the strong belief in prayer that is displayed by Jackson. The scene of Thomas Jackson and his wife sharing a scripture before he goes off to war is powerful. And his prayer with his black cook, on their way to Chancellorsville, where he is wounded and eventually dies, is incredible. I can't think of another movie (short of The Passion of course) that depicts a passion for God in such a favorable light. No jokes, no ridicule, and no "alternative" representation. Just a deep love for God. Even if you don't like war or historical movies, it's worth seeing just for the positive perspective on faith in God.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yesterday, Today, and Today!

OK - It's, a muskrat, but it's related!

Somewhere between Gladiator and Singing In the Rain is one of my all time favorite movies. I realized last night that February was about to get away from me and I hadn't seen Groundhog Day yet. I love Groundhog Day - I think I've mentioned that a few times in the past. I love it for at least two reasons. First, and most obvious, is the message. "Phil" takes what seems to be a curse and learns the secret of happiness. He goes from shock to depression to total selfishness to suicidal to finally discover that happiness and meaning come from serving others. His final day in "Groundhog" eternity is so powerful and transforming that it brings me to tears. Because of his unselfishness - his giving, servant, lifestyle - he, in one day, has become the most beloved person in town. Truly, happiness comes from helping others be happy. How nice would it be to learn that without aging in the process. I'm not begrudging the aging, just the wasted years we all spend learning the very lesson we heard as children.

The other special reason I love it is because it does remind my of my own spiritual journey. Back when I saw the movie when it was new, I got the point, but it was still primarily a comedy to me. Several years later, after I'd been doing a lot more thinking and praying about God, grace, and gratitude, it touched me. It's still hilarious - but mostly profound. And I think it's amazing that it was made by worldly people who had no intentions of having any spiritual or religious connections to the movie. The writer and director say as much in the Special Features.

So, if you haven't seen it in a while, check it out. I'll end this with a question. How many repeated days would it take you to learn the purpose of life?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

In the last few years I have tried harder to listen to God's promptings in my life. I believe He guides us. It may be His Spirit doing the work, but I believe God put's word and thoughts into our ears and our hearts. Sometimes it's reading His Word or hearing someone else share their thoughts, or maybe it's just something that pops into my head that demands meditation. I especially try to pay attention when there are multiple "pops" over a period of time.
I share that just to say that I've been thinking a lot lately about how wonderful it is to know all my children love God and have a close walk with Jesus. Maybe it was the brothers I prayed with who were grieving over an adult child's ungodly choices. Maybe it was the news reports about sudden-unexpected tragedy in a government building or on a campus. Maybe part of was Heath Ledger. I've found myself thinking about Jesus' warning, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" That's not said to judge him, but to point out how meaningless success is without God.
Maybe it's the preparation for this Sunday's "Be Real" lesson about loving and caring for children like Jesus did. I'm going to ask some really tough questions about our focus, our success record, and our responsibilities.
I don't know were it all came from. I'm just so thankful that I have six adult kids (by birth and by law) who know that their soul is far more important than the whole world, and that is being passed on to their children - my grand children. It makes me really appreciate and personalize Johns comment in 3 John4. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." And Jesus is that truth (John 14:6). Thanks John, for saying it well and thanks Holy Spirit for whispering it in his ear. God is good.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Righteous But Not Too Much?

We must seek the character of Jesus and not His position. That was my main point yesterday as I tried to explain the difficult dance of how we correct the self-righteous, as Jesus did, and not become self-righteous ourselves. As sinners, who can't possibly know the hearts of other struggling sinners, how do we warn and correct without becoming the very Pharisees we're attempting to help. It's all about His spirit not His power. It's too easy to become self-righteous about not being self-righteous and risk the righteousness that God gives us because of His love - not our rightness. Did you follow that? Anything and everything we do can become an act of self-righteousness if we use it to compare ourselves to others, judge others, improve our image to others, or earn our salvation.
Time and space won't allow it here, but after a brief discussion with a friend of a friend about a friend (confused yet?), there may not be a better example of self-righteousness than how many today teach, preach, and practice their legalistic conclusions regarding marriage and divorce. Another case of an eldership dropping an edict on another desparate and hurting Christian, in an abusive, drug controlling, covenant mocking relationship, that since there was no known sex-out-of-marriage-adultery they must stay together or be single the rest of their life - "or the church will discipline" them guidance. There are a hundred points I'd love to list right here, about seeing laws and missing the Spirit. There is an ideal that God wants - one man for one woman for life and He hates divorce - always. There is an ideal that God wants - humble servants who love Him totally - He hates the proud - always. He hates to see covenants broken - period - always. But He's always the Father looking for the Prodigal to return and to give forgiveness. Laying aside those arguments and the sick Pharisees discussions about semantics, how can shepherds who have done nothing to guide, help, heal, pray with, and do everything possible to secure and protect a marriage, suddenly sit in judgment and pronounce sentence on God's children. "It's scripture!" someone screams. Well the Pharisees were corrected by Jesus for using scripture to "find life" without a real relationship with God. It's a crock of legalism. Couples or leaders who haven't sought God's guidance have no business seeking His justification for their position.
If you want to do something interesting, just make a list of all the Bible characters, men and woman of faith, who because of their marital situation or history wouldn't be allowed to set foot in some of our churches today. And don't hand me that "It's Old Testament" excuse. Jesus was still in the Old Testament when He spoke in Matthew 5 and 19 - and all He was saying was "Let's go back to what God intended in the beginning." He was pointing back to Genesis not the future. And who gave Moses the right to amend it?
One last thought. We can't be like Jesus when He cleansed the Temple, or spoke to the hearts of His apostles, because we can't see hearts. I can't help but feel like that's a good reason to not sit in judgment on broken marriages. We can't know what two people really think and feel in their hearts. We never know the whole story. God does. He's in the judging business. We're in the help and prevention business - the love and forgiveness business - well, because He's all about that too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

So here it is. The logo for our 2008 musical Jonah and the Pirates of the Mediterranean. The music has been picked out since back in late Summer and I finished the script in December. The casting list is posted in front of the church office and our first rehearsal starts the first Wednesday in March. I am really excited about doing this play. It's going to be so much fun. Yes, I took a few liberties with the story as I set up the reason why Jonah was so anti-Nineveh and yes, the ship to Tarshish probably wasn't a pirate ship - but it could have been! The music is going to be incredible. The usual mixture of Rock and Roll, Broadway hits, and praise songs will keep everyone entertained and inspired. If there is any chance that you might be in the St. Louis area the first week of June, please come and see it. I wish I could invite all to stay with us, but I'm hoping to have a house full of family. But mark June 5,6,7, and 8. We will do four performances that will all be the same. I am considering declaring Thursday night "Church Night" as a good night for area congregations to attend. I have purposely not invited sister congregations because our emphasis is on our community, but we have been having more and more "brethren" attend on Sunday night (good alternative to the usual PM requirement) and it has been our most crowded night. So maybe if we offer Thursday night (our smallest crowd night), it will give more space for Sunday. It'll work - one way or another. Just wanted to give you a heads up. Florissant won't even see this logo until Sunday morning - unless they read my blog. Wait until you see the choices of boats that Jonah had to choose from before he picked the one he did.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Portable Dishonesty

I used this in my lesson last Sunday, and it's so incredible that I felt like people thought I was making it up. It's a "Get Off the Phone Excuse Machine" that has recorded messages, one for each button, that you press when you're wanting an excuse to end a phone call. The six choices are static, siren, doorbell, crying baby, car crash, or "Knock, knock, Chinese food delivery!". They even advertise it as "And it's a key chain so you always have your 'excuses' handy." How nice is that? You can be dishonest and lie wherever you are! What is so amazing to me is that there is a basic assumption that there are enough people out there without integrity that this is a marketable product! Why is it so hard to just be honest? Now there's a wild idea. I couldn't help but apply this to how we treat God when He calls us. How big is our list of distractions? How many of our interruptions are self made so that we don't have to confront our lack of honesty about our relationship with God? How many times, maybe even while sitting in an assembly of saints, has God tried to get our attention and we pushed the mental button of static, crying baby, food, or life crashes?

Excuse machines were around long before this little key chain lying machine was invented. It's called the heart.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Three "G's"

A friend sent us this picture and I thought I'd share it since it's about two of our family's favorite animals. Today it's in the low teens outside, so this picture reminds me of how thankful I am to have a house and to be inside of it looking out rather than the other way around.
I've been reading an interesting book by Bill Hybels about sharing our faith, titled Just Walk Across the Room. I really like his emphasis on being sensitive to the Spirit's directions in our life. In one story that he shared, he talked about a couple who were far from God and who needed to start thinking about more positive and spiritual things before they would be ready to change their lives. He asked them to think about "grace and power" for a couple weeks, and just say those two words over and over. I really like the fact that he was preparing soil not trying to harvest a crop. But it also made me think about what words I'd challenge someome to dwell on.
What would you say are the two or three most powerful words you could share with someone? I immediately thought of three words that "say it all" for me, and, while "Jesus" is always first, for memory purposes I like alliteration. So my pick is God, grace, and gratitude. They sum up the who, what, and why of my spiritual journey. What would you use?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Being Real And Hairy

I decided about five weeks ago that letting my beard grow out would be a good daily reminder for me to "Be Real." After all, every morning I look at my white whiskers and have to say "It's the real me." I'm old enough that my beard is white - not even the gray it was the last time I did this about seven years ago. I've enjoyed using it as my own personal-can't-avoid-it-in-your-face reminder. I don't want to get distracted from my journey to honestly examine how passionate I am about being as much like Jesus as I possibly can. If I'm going to preach it - expect it from my church family - then I have to be real myself. That having been said, nothing a preacher does that is seen by everyone is personal or private. Every member has a comment, an opinion, and usually a joke to share about the addition to my face. So from that standpoint, it may not be the best personal reminder I could have chosen, but hey, that's what razors are for. Still, I plan to let it grow for awhile. I told some minister buddies at the preacher's meeting this morning that I was into the Moses look. Of course, from my loving brethren, I've heard comments about everything from Willie Nelson to Sean Connery. One teen did call me Santa, one brother called me Foster Brooks (that'll date ya if you know who he is), and fortunately no one has called me Kenny Rogers. Twenty years ago that might have flattered me, but today I might have to slug whoever says it. Personally, every time I catch a surprising look in a mirror I feel like I should be doing a TV commercial from a boat in Maine selling fish sticks. I really like our older folks. My beard is so light and white that many of them can't see it from their church seat. When I give them a big hug they say, "When did you grow that?" Oops, I just remember that I say the same thing when I look in the mirror on my first trip to the bathroom every morning.
Change is fun. I'm going to enjoy it for a little while longer. Maybe some Just For Men...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Saver or Sower?

Why do we love to invent religious beliefs and then try to convince everyone that we got it from the Bible? I could use several things to illustrate that point, but I have recently been thinking and praying a lot about outreach. Is it possible to go to the Bible with a completely open mind and not try to force our preconceived conclusions onto scripture? Let's start with a concordance. Let's see, how many times does "outreach" appear in the New Testament? Wow, it seems to appear the same number of times as personal work, evangelism, soul winning, and a few others. And after all the emotional whippings we've given each other through the years over this subject, there will never be enough grace available to make us feel okay with our spiritual journey. After all, if you baptized fifty people last year, you still could have and should have, done more!
Now before you think I'm developing an interpretive rationale to make us all feel good for our lack ot "outreach", that is not my intent. I just want us to handle the Word of God correctly. First, did Jesus really intend for His commission to His first missionaries to be a command for every Christian? We do call it "THE GREAT COMMISSION" not the "Pretty Good Commision." Again, He didn't call it that. In fact, other then the personally called apostle Paul, how many of the apostles actually did "Go"? Even after the persecution of Acts 8 - disciples went, but not the apostles. Like I said last Sunday, we have not been called to "go" but to "be". Forget our words and titles and look at the Bible words. Share! Testify! Witness! They are all "lifestyle" concepts. We sow seed wherever we are - every chance we get - as part of our life! The problem isn't so much a lack of "reaching out" but our failure to listen within - to the Holy Spirit nudging us to share, speak up, show compassion, and illustrate Jesus in our life. For me, that gives me a whole new way of looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:19 "Do not put out the Spirit's fire."
What would happen if we all listened to the Spirit prompting us to witness for Jesus in word and deed? Maybe we should forget the Great Commisions and focus more on the Great Parable. You know, the one about the sower, the seed, and the soils. (Matt.13) We can keep on developing Outreach Programs and Evangelism Ministries until the Lord comes and we will still feel like miserable failures. Being real about being like Jesus means that caring and sharing are just things that Christ-like people do. Maybe our real failure is not in outreach, but in not having members who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they can't help but be a witness for Him.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Our Biggest SL Snow

Yes, yet another picture of the pond-out-back, but I share this picture to show one of the big reasons we got this house in the first place. These are three of a five window block that make up the back wall of our living room. It's so nice to not look at another house when we look out our back windows. I raised the blinds to show how nice our view always is - except in the afternoon when we have to keep it closed because of the direct sunlight. This is the pond covered in ice and topped off with the snow we got Thursday night.
This is yesterday morning, before I started shoveling snow. Our street was empty with no movement at all. They said there was eight and a half inches at the airport - 20 minutes south of us, but we had at least ten or eleven inches on our driveway.

You can see how deep it is, but what's amazing is that I shoveled it off Thursday evening just before dark when there was already about three inches on the driveway. Notice how intently I'm staring at the snow. I'm thinking "How much does it cost to buy a snow blower?" It was a beautiful snow and with the temps going up today and more tomorrow, it won't be around very long. I love snow, but I especially love it when it hits and doesn't stay very long.