Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Short Review

A Brief Summary From Sunday Mornings Lesson:
Once upon a time a nice young girl named Holly was given a copy of the Bible to study. She was happy to receive it as she sat down on her bench to read it. Immediately she began to be uncomfortable on the hard wooden bench. She stopped reading as she squirmed trying to find a comfortable way to sit. Soon she just gave up and left the Bible sitting on the bench.
A nice, not so young man named Glenn was given a Bible to read and he eagerly carried it to his rocking chair and began rocking and reading. He was really enjoying it - until he started getting tired from rocking. And then the sun was beating on him and he got hot and uncomfortable. He was torn between wanting to continue with the reading, and quitting to get away from the sun and rest from the rocking. He laid the Bible on the end table and gave up.
Then there was a sweet girl named Kiva who received a Bible which she took straight to her big, comfortable easy chair, and she just relaxed and enjoyed every moment spent with the Word. But then, a guy named Steve started showing her the Headlines in the newspaper and telling her about all the things in the world to be worrying about. Then came Danny with his Cabela's credit card telling her how much nicer life would be if she was wealthy enough to enjoy such a luxury. They were joined by OD who was flashing his I-Phone in her face and appealing to her desire for the newest "thing". At first she ignored them, but then she began to listen, and gradually she closed her Bible and was carried away with their shiny offers.
When Jerry took his Bible and sat in his office chair, a chair you work in, he not only enjoyed his study, but he internalized it. Soon he felt compelled to find three others to join him and study God's Word together. One sat on the bench, one on the rocker, and the other in the easy chair, because - it's not where you are when you receive the Word, it's where you go with it! It's about staying on the journey and growing.
(Another version is found in Mark 4:1-20 - and a BIG THANK YOU to all the impromptu actors who helped me Sunday.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Deep Dirt?

The parable of the Sower is certainly one of the best known parables in the Gospels. I would guess that most Christians would include it if asked to list five parables from memory. It's an unusual parable too. Every physical thing in it symbolizes something with spiritual significance. And unlike other parables, it's not really about the Sower, but the soils he sows the seed in. It is full of imagery that every person of Jesus' day would understand because they'd done it and seen it all their lives. The four soils represent four different ways the Word of God is received by people, so it is Jesus' explanation for why people respond to His message they way they do. The most amazing thing is its timelessness. The reasons why the Seed doesn't take root and grow in the lives of many people are the same today as then. Maybe that is why Jesus questioned and warned his apostles when they asked him to explain it to them. Remember what He said? "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?" (Mark 4:13) Ouch!
Isn't He saying that this parable represents the essence of God's plan for redeeming man? All God can do is put His offer out there and make His love known to us, but it is up to the individual to take that seed into their heart. This parable is showing us the preeminence of the heart in having a relationship with God. The condition of the heart transcends any external actions of the body. However, when the word is heard, received, and taking root in the heart, it produces crops that can only come from God's Word. The heart that truly seeks God is what He is looking for. Like Jesus said, if we don't understand that, how can we understand anything He told us?
(FYI: My favorite phrase in the parable is found in Mark 4:6, "...they withered because they had no root." - that'll preach!)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creating Space

After putting pictures of my newly finished basement on my web page year before last, I couldn't bring myself to take pictures of what it looks like right now. You see, we finally got around to cleaning out the storeroom section of our basement, because it was packed with boxes and stuff -most of which hasn't been unpacked or seen in over five years now. I did put a picture up a few weeks ago of our newly cleaned out small storeroom that we turned into Donna's new pantry, but this is the big storeroom - which is about a quarter of the basement. Yesterday, Donna was finally able to finish with the loads of Christmas stuff - I'm talking thirty-seven years of collected decorations - some we haven't had out in decades - and were able to cull it down to a manageable heap about the size of a washer & dryer. Yeah! Then we started in on the rest. Now we have a huge pile of things for Goodwill, and we've made several trips to Mr. Dumpster. Nevertheless (isn't that a great word?), our basement is covered with piles of stuff, as we sort, separate, and travel down memory lane with each box we open. Let me share a few observations.
* What we remember is absolutely dwarfed by the magnitude of what we've forgotten about! (Of course, I knew that, but I'd forgotten it.)
* It's amazing how some little "thing" (i.e. figurine, cup, picture, etc) can trigger the opening of a whole section of the past you haven't thought about for years.
* It's amazing how much "stuff" you accumulate that you can't remember anything about, much less why you've kept it so long.
* Many memories don't disappear just because you refuse to keep some little memento in storage.
* Letting go of something that triggers an important memory is worse than pulling teeth - and it doesn't matter that you haven't seen it in years.
* Forget about one picture being worth a thousand words - why do so many make you feel a thousand years old?
* Why do I have the sinking feeling that all the space we are freeing up will soon be filled with more stuff?
* Wow! How can you look at how much you have to store (not use - just store) and not think about how much you've been blessed through the years?
* Okay, I'm a preacher, but more than anything else, I'm a sinner - saved by the grace of God. And you know what REALLY amazes me? Because of Jesus, my sin storeroom is empty!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Movie Recommendation

We watched Taking Chance last night. I friend let us borrow his DVD of this HBO made movie, and all I can say is you need to see it. It is a true story of a Marine officer asking to be the official representative for the Marines in taking a Marine who was killed in Iraq back to his family in Wyoming. The things he experiences in terms of caring and patriotic Americans expressing their appreciation for the sacrifice will truly move you. It's a real story about a real Marine named Chance Phelps. The story was originally the officers After Action Report that he was required to turn in when he finished his assignment. It's powerful and makes you feel good about what our men and women are doing, but also how our country cares and respects them. I kept thinking, "What a difference from the days of Vietnam!" - praise the Lord!
(I saw it at Target the other day. I'll have to go back and purchase a copy.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Next - the porch swing?

When I walked into our house yesterday, I immediately saw "Denny" Crane standing just off our back porch. I was really surprised to see him/her so close to our house. He/she has been all around the pond this spring, and seems to be spending the better part of every day there, but he/she has always kept their distance from the threat of people. He/she has been doing a lot of sunny as well as hunting fish in the pond. I think it's the same crane, but it could be several cranes, who all look just a like, dropping in at different times. Who'd know? The only thing I could think of as to why he/she was so close to the porch is that the new wood radiates heat from the sun shining on it. I put a temperature gage on one of the posts, but once the sun starts working on the porch, it's always way higher than the actual temperature because of all the warm wood. He/she only let me snap two pictures before he/she flew ot the opposite side of the pond to sun over there. I'm amazed that he/she could see or sense my movement through the door window and in the darkened house. They've got awesome eye sight, which is why they don't miss many times when they stab the water with their long bills and come up with a fresh little pond perch for dinner.
I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere, but I just wanted you to see one of the reasons why we really like where we live and why I build our porch. Oh, and there's some neat people here too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More Pep Rally Talk

In the introduction to my lesson Sunday, I made a statement that was actually in my book Unbroken Bread almost fifteen years ago. I believe it even more now than I did back then. Here is what I put up on the Power Point screen Sunday morning. The preeminence of the assembly guarantees constant battles, dissatisfaction, self-centered members, and church hopping. I went on to point out that it causes several things:
1. A loss of focus and purpose - because we have completely forgotten what the purpose of the church is (not to mention worship, spiritual tools, and loving one another).
2. Mountains become mole hills - as we change our priorities from drawing closer to Jesus to keeping people happy, providing predictability, and maintaining our traditions.
3. There is little or no spiritual growth, even if our numbers increase.
4. Leaders are too busy putting out or preventing fires to be purpose driven.
5. We completely reversed God's plan when receiving replace giving, which how most people view the Sunday morning assembly time. (Talk about obvious red flags?)
What I didn't say, partly because I forgot, and partly because it was only the introduction to the lesson and not the lesson, was that the worldly tradition of elevating the Christian assembly to the dominant act, event, or focus of the church is unbiblical, Pharisaical, and spiritually shallow. The only other thing I would, or should have added, is that because of the historical elevating of the assembly, and it's history as a bloody battlefield, we define ourselves doctrinally, spiritually, and culturally by our assembly rather than as loving disciples of Jesus. Most people would disagree with that, but all you have to do is ask them what it takes to become an "official" un-asterisked member of their congregation (i.e. agreement on baptism and the "Acts of Worship").
All that being said, I love our assembly time! However, until we get every member to understand that it's our pep-rally and not "who we are" as children of God, it will continue to be the number one reason why members get unhappy, upset, up-in-arms, and out the door looking for a church that "meets their needs".
And FYI, the lesson was about Jesus getting "in the face" of the Pharisees to let them know they were missing God's plan and purpose for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27 - 3:6)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Word of the Day!

There are few words in the English language that mean more to me than the word integrity. Okay, I still have to check the dictionary to remember if it's g-r-e or g-r-i, but that's a spelling weakness and not a character weakness. One of the reasons I love the word/concept so much is because of a favorite saying about it that I've known for so many years I can't remember where it came from. Isn't that the definition of originality? No, integrity forbids me from taking credit for it, but it has sure stuck in my heart through the years. "Integrity is the gift you give yourself." God has given the greatest gift of all time. Even many non-Christians know what John 3:16 says. But even God's wonderful gift of His Son, with all the love and grace it provides, remains conceptual if we don't honestly internalize it and allow it to motivate as seekers of Him. Integrity is internal honesty that drives us to consistently seek to please Him whether anyone sees it or not. It's Being Real about having a relationship with Jesus. It's when knowing that God is pleased becomes enough of a reason to do what's right. That kind of integrity is where the peace that passes worldly comprehension comes from.
Let me crank it up a notch with this observation. Your integrity is only as strong as your sense of self worth. People who don't feel good about themselves, don't do good things to themselves. That is the true irony of Christ-like unselfishness. Many think it's the result of being crushed, weak, and spineless, but it really comes from a God-given sense of self worth that makes it okay to give, be thoughtful, serve, and even sacrifice for others. Poor self worth comes from and causes self-centeredness. A self-centered person isn't interested in integrity unless displaying it furthers their personal interests.
God wants us to feel good about ourselves, unless we have something feel guilty about. When we accept His forgiveness and understand His grace, and what that says about how important we are to Him, we have joy, peace, and are motivated to share it. What's the bottom line? Our self esteem - real self esteem that lasts - can only come from God. As unworthy sinners made into worthy children of God, we are overwhelmed by love and honestly draw closer to Him. He loves us, we love our self, and are able to honestly love others. That's spiritual integrity. That's God's plan - remember? Love God and love others AS you love YOURSELF. (As quoted by Moses, Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, & John)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Old Fairfax Friends

It was a wonderful blessing to have Dave and Becky Hinckley staying with us this past weekend. They are good friends from our days with the Fairfax Church of Christ where we had a terrific thirteen year ministry. Our kids basically grew up there, the congregation experienced some phenomenal growth, and I personally was able (allowed) to grow as a minister as they encouraged me to challenge the status quo. Those were some great years, and frankly, our decision to leave there and move to Texas in 1990 is one of the very few life changing decisions that I've looked back on with some doubts and some wonder about the wisdom of our choice. I think God had a plan for us and for them, so I don't regret it, and I am immensely thankful for the great memories we will always treasure.
I've said all that to say that it was nice to just spend a bunch of time with Dave and Becky, sitting around the dinner table, talking about what has happened to everyone over the last twenty years. Becky is the person who taught Donna sign language back in the early to mid-80's and she and Dave have been primary leaders in helping their Hearing Impaired ministry grow and become a vital part of the Fairfax family. We drafted Becky to interpret my sermon on Sunday morning, which just proves that no good vacation goes unpunished.
Isn't it awesome to have church family all over the place? We may have worked in four different congregations, but we still have close friends from each of those experiences. There's going to be a lot of catching up to do in heaven.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Two Types of Sermons?

I do a three mile fast-paced hike nearly everyday. It's a good workout, and what I like most about it is - I can think while I walk. I never did much of that in all my years of running. All I thought about was getting done. Now the problem is remembering all the things I think about while walking. I try to write them down in my journal as soon as I walk back into the house. Last week, I figured out all the main points for my sermon on Sunday while walking. Fortunately, it was a very familiar passage and an easy one to meditate on. It was nice to just reflect on it awhile instead of just needing to come up with something to put on paper.
Yesterday I was thinking about preaching. Not a specific sermon, just the whole process of sharing a message from God's Word. I've always used - not so much a formula, as they are - rules to follow. My goal is to be simple, logical, and biblical. I want to take scriptural teachings and make them easy to understand, and rationally worth accepting.
Yesterday I found myself deciding that there really are only two types of sermons: sermons that make you think and sermons that make you stink. Thinking sermons cause you to - well, think, reflect, examine, and do some soul searching. Stinking sermons help you see your sin and challenge you to do something about it because all sin stinks to God - even if we think our "little, insignificant, socially acceptable" sins smell okay. They both include levels of encouragement, convicting, teaching, and enlightenment, but the goal is to either bring about change or generate the thinking that will bring about spiritual growth.
Of course, you have to think to know there's a stink, and if you stink it should make you think about how not to stink. And sometimes the sermons stink, so you don't think, and that creates more stink, so I think it's best to think before you stink and it's always best to help others think about their stink as you think about your own. What do you think?
I think I'll go for a walk.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sabbath Lessons

Few verses of scripture have changed me, compelled me, and even haunted me over the last twenty years as Mark 2:27. Jesus declared, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It rocked my spiritual world long ago, and it continues to do it today. If something so central to Jewish thinking, and such an intricate part of the Law - hey, it's one of the original TEN - can be declared by Jesus to be a tool to use not a ceremony to perform or a sacrament to meticulously follow, how did we ever allow things he gave us as tools, to help us grow in love and build spiritual relationship, to become "acts of worship," rules to follow, and rituals to be obeyed? And we took those very same things, and made them tests of faith, symbols of truth, and defining elements of discipleship!
Back in the 1970's I first discovered that what I'd always been taught about worship just flat wasn't in the New Testament. Worship is a life given in sacrifice to God. The Christian assembly/fellowship is simply an equipping and encouraging event. There's no formal worship, no holy time or place, and no day that's not "the Lord's day." It rattled everything I thought, believed, and preached. We are not - must not- be defined by our assembly, but by our passion for living for Jesus!
It has been a huge soul-quake again for me to look at all the things God has given us to help us grow - as tools, not acts, rituals, patterns, or laws to obey, but tools to help us help each other grow in Christ. This paradigm shift is incredible because I've started to see things he have us as resources, possibilities, options, and choices He has gaven us to use to build a deeper relationship with Him.
If you want to have fun - I mean a real spiritual, tradition busting, mind-bending, eye-opening - experience, just write out Mark 2:27 and leave blanks where the word "Sabbath" should be. Now go back and place any of God's tools in those blanks and listen to how it sound. Here's an example. The Lord's Supper was made for man, not man for the Lord's Supper.
It may not change what your church family will do during communion next Sunday, but it should change the way you think about what you're doing when it takes place. Jesus was providing us with a tool to use not a ritual to perform!
Go ahead - fill in the blanks, and see what it says to you.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Finally, Out of the Closet

This may not mean much to anyone but our family, but we finally got around to "trying" to organize the rest of our basement. If you've been checking on my blog the last couple years, you know that year before last I finished out our basement. Two areas that went untouched were the two store rooms. The small one (above) is were I've been keeping all my hunting gear, and the large one, about a fourth of our basement, was the big store room holding furniture, Christmas stuff, boxes, and odd stuff. It was full and in desperate need of attention. Most of the stuff in it, the boxes, were/are things we haven't unpacked or seen in over five years - some longer. So it's kind of like doing an archaeological dig. Every box is a discovery full of memories - all of which makes us forget our vow to be ruthless about our stuff and get rid of most of it.
Donna is standing in the - now - clean pantry, with new shelving which is three quarters filled already. She can now put all her extra kitchen stuff, some too big to put upstairs, and also have all her Christmas dishes on shelves (one entire unit, by the way) so it will be much easier to get it out this next Christmas. The remaining shelf will be for non-perishable foodstuff and supplies.
For family, my hunting stuff now, temporarily, resides atop the queen size bed, and the rest of the finished basement is covered with Christmas stuff and storage stuff we are still organizing and deciding what goes to trash, Goodwill, repacked, or to the real owner - one of you.
There is still a ton of stuff in the store room, but the goal is to get this all done in the next few weeks. I still want to build a small closet for all my hunting gear.
In the meantime, it's nice to be able to actually walk around in the store room. I can already see the day, Lord willing, when we might have a bathroom downstairs.