Thursday, June 30, 2011

Holy Sarcasm?

I have to confess that I struggle constantly with what constitutes appropriate sarcasm. I have always used sarcasm as a way to express humor, but also as a way to voice opinions and judgements in a way that is socially less offensive than the usual criticisms and personal digs that are clearly confrontational and hurtful. Several years ago it dawned on me that most sarcasm is just sugar coated negativity and semantically batter dipped barbs that, while witty and often cute, would never come from the lips of Jesus. Yes, I know that sarcasm has a place. It can emphasize a point, capture attentions, and cause a smile, but often it's a license to kill spirits, ridicule accomplishments, and vent poisonous gas from selfish gray matter. It is one of those things that you have to ask yourself why you are using it. Is it really the best way to show how quick and witty you are? Is it grabbing for attention at the cost of wounding others? Is it building up or tearing down?
Paul's words have haunted me for a lot of years now. Remember his challenge to "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Eph.4:29) Once you get past the occasional laugh that funny sarcasm my cause, at those rare times it isn't at the expense of hurting or humiliating someone else, it's hard to see when or how it helps, builds, or benefits anyone. Talk about a fascination with words, how does "wholesome" and "sarcasm" go together? It's not impossible, just not likely.
I shared a quote with our small group a while back that a friend shared with me. I really like it, especially as it is so appropriate to the times we live it. It's from Eric Hoffer, who said, "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength." I thought of it the other day when a new potential presidential candidate was declaring how he wasn't afraid to be rude to get his message across. Well it makes me think! I wonder if sarcasm could be defined as a selfish person's impersonation of being kind? Does that sound sarcastic?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Bible Is God's Word!

I have never had a problem with the reliability of the Bible. I know it contains God's message of Good News to man. As I mentioned Sunday, if you believe there is a God, it's reasonable to expect him to communicate both his will for us - as the only part of his creation made in his image, and his directions for how to have a relationship with him. When we understand that he created us to be in a relationship with him, the meaning and purpose of the Bible is clear, and it changes the way we interpret every word of it. His Spirit inspired or guided the writers, and protected it from destruction or alteration through the centuries.
I have never really had any problems with the canonicity of the Bible - that is, are the right books in there or did something get left out that should have been in there. One of my standard "religious jokes" through the years has been, "We don't agree with the Catholics on hardly anything, yet we believe they did a perfect job of deciding which books belong in the Bible." I called it "selective trust" or maybe "grudging admiration" since we traditionally believe we have "all the pieces of the puzzle." The truth is, nearly the entire list of books that made the final cut had been considered "canonical" decades, even a couple centuries, before the formalization of it around 400 AD, and it involved a lot more scholars and theologians than a council of Catholic leaders.
What I have had problems with for several decades, is the assumption that God intended for his church to have access to all the pieces of the puzzle before we can know the truth. Because - as our traditional interpretive methodology has declared - you need all the parts to put together all the doctrinal patterns that complete the picture of what it means to truly be Christians like they were in the New Testament (aka - Restoration Theology). If that was the plan, it was poorly executed - especially when you consider how few people over the last two thousand years have had access to all the pieces (i.e. all twenty-seven NT books). How long has it been available to anyone who wanted to see it? Maybe the last two to three centuries? And how many of those first or second century brethren had access to all the parts.
I believe THE Gospel - the good news of Jesus - saves. Jesus is the truth. The truth is not having all the pieces of the doctrinal puzzle figured out. Consider this, if you only had a copy of one of the Gospels, would you have enough to become a child of God and be pleasing to God? I think you would. Everything else is great, but it's the tool box to help, not the law book to make us righteous.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Play Pics

FYI for those who are interested, there are two hundred and something pictures from our play that have been posted on our webpage. They are really good, with lots of close-ups, and in no particular order. Go to the web page, click on Photo Gallery then on The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, in blue at the bottom of the window. Our good friend Ben took the pictures. I think he has done our pictures, especially our cast pictures, every year. He has a great zoom lens that caught some great facial expressions from several cast members.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Go thou and do likewise"

Just for fun, I started a list of passages of scripture that - in my opinion - have been sadly abused and misused through the years. Unfortunately, for some of these I have been just a guilty as he next guy. Just because something can be applied, doesn't mean it should - especially if you are trying to represent the author correctly.

Ten of the Most Abused Passages in the New Testament
1. Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them." This is all about resolving problems with a brother and has NOTHING to do with the assembly of the saints. I still remember a preacher using this verse to say that if you miss church, you're missing a chance to be with Jesus!
2. John 9:31 "We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will." There is a principle of answered prayer there, but this is an uninspired healed man, who is being questioned by the Pharisees. To use this verse to teach that God only listens to Christians is to ignore the whole principle of seeking him. He was only trying to say that God was clearly listening to Jesus.
3. 1 Corinthians 14:32 "For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace." This admonishment to inconsiderate tongues speakers and prophets has nothing to do with whether or not it's okay to sing during the passing of communion. Don't say "Duh!" I've heard it used that way.
4. 1 Corinthians 14:40 "But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." This is not a defense of tradition or the standard order of worship.
5. Philippians 2:12 " out your salvation with fear and trembling." It is not a call for involvement but a call to continue on a journey to know God better. "...for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (vs.13)
6. Matthew 28:19-20 The Great Commission - you know it. Jesus never called all of his followers to be missionaries spreading his Gospel. He did call on all of us to be his witnesses wherever we are. There is a reason why "apostle" means "one sent".
7. Hebrews 10:25 "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching." This never was about attendance, but about missing an opportunity to encourage others. The whole point was looking for ways to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." If the assembly stops being an opportunity to encourage others, and all about "getting" encouraged - it stops being what God wanted it to be.
8. Titus 1:5-9 & 1 Timothy 3:1-7 You know it - the elder stuff. I don't believe Paul ever intended this to be a list of the qualifications of an elder. He was simply describing what a mature, godly leader might look like.
9. Hebrews 11:6 "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who come to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." The concept of faith in this passage is not doctrinal correctness. Faith is the earnest seeking after God, who "we do not see" (vs.1). This isn't about the right conclusions but the right journey.
10. 2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Paul was talking about the Old Testament "holy Scriptures" Timothy had been studying since his infancy, not the 27 books, including his thirteen letters, that would centuries later be known a the New Testament. It might apply, but he certainly wasn't thinking of that when he wrote to Timothy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Believe Jesus Is the Son of God!

Faith is what you tell yourself - primarily about things you can't see. When you think about it, the vast major of what we know is knowledge by faith. We haven't been to all the places we know about, or seen very many of the things we've heard about, but we trust the witnesses and evidence we've been presented and we have little problem accepting things as fact. An old Roy Rogers and Dale Evans song said, "Have faith, hope, and charity. That's the way to live sincerely. How do I know? The Bible tells me so."
When you are answering the question "Why do you believe Jesus is God's Son?" your answers - your faith - will rest on whether or not you believe the Bible is true and from God. That is my lesson for this coming Sunday, but for now, the Bible is my primary source of evidence. Here is a brief overview of how I answered that question last Sunday.
I believe Jesus is God's Son...
1. Because God says he is! (And I believe God - see last weeks lesson) We all remember what God said at the baptism of Jesus, and again at his Transfiguration. "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!" Can you accept or believe only SOME of what God says? Look at some of Jesus' declarations in John 5, 8, and 14.
2. Because his life says he is! (This needs to be a separate sermon on its own.)
A. Look at what he left! Philippians 2:6
B. Look at what he became! vs.7
C. Look at what he sacrificed! vs.8
D. There is no other explanation for who is was/is!
3. Because his signs say he is! (Who else could do these things?)
A. His signs show that he is Lord of creation. (Jn.1:1; 8:58)
B. His signs show that he was a compassionate teacher
C. His signs show that he was a purpose driven Son
4. Because his teachings say he is! (Not just claims!)
A. His total focus on his father (at 12; in his ministry)
B. His total focus on his priorities (Plan! Timing! Place!)
C. His total focus on love (His obedience, journey, goal = God)
5. Because witnesses say he is! Witnesses who died for their faith!
A. Peter: Matt.16:18 then in Acts 2:36
B. Thomas: Jn.20:28
C. Paul: Phil.2:9-11
6. Because his resurrection says he is!
A. His resurrection was the Good News (check out Acts preaching)
B. His resurrection confirms our resurrection. Rom.6:4-5
C. There is no explanation for why God raised him from the dead other than he was his Son - the Messiah.
7. Because my heart says he is! Like the woman at the well in Jn.4, the more I'm with him the more he confirms who he is. God's promise of seeking & finding is true with Jesus! No one who ever lived is like him, is as one with God, and willing to die for me to pay my debt!
Conclusion: "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird? It's a plane? It's Superman!" One of my favorite childhood TV shows. You see observation! Options! Reaching the only reasonable conclusion. When you look at Jesus - check the options - there is only one reasonable conclusion.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where's The Ark?

We had a huge storm come through early this morning, just as I was getting up at 5:45, and at 6:30 I stepped out on our porch and noticed how "out of the banks" our little pond was. The above picture may not seem too unusual to you, especially if you haven't seen it at normal times, but there are weeds on the edge of the pond that are three feet tall, and they are under water. It's almost into our actual back yard property.

For family and friends, this picture probably show better how high the pond got. Notice how close it is to our neighbor's porch, which is a good bit closer to the pond than we are. Then look at the spill-way in the upper right, and the usually high embankment. Our oldest grand kids like to play in that area when they visit. At the time of this picture, it's several feet higher than normal. In fact, I've never seen it this high in our six and a half years of living here. It probably has been this high, but it was at night and we couldn't see it. I know it had to get up about this high to wash away the goose nest, eggs and all, that was just below our house back in the early Spring. This is really just a holding pond, but it's been here for around twenty-five years, so it has a lot of wildlife and fish in it, and has very little human interference. We've been entertained the last week by a momma duck with about eight little fluffy ducklings swimming behind her. Hope they made it through the flood.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Out of the mouth kids!"

After the Sunday morning assembly time, I came back into my office to put my Bible (and glasses) up, and found a red-smiley-face balloon in my chair. I could tell it had something rattling around in it, but I had no idea why it was there or what it was for, so I set it on my desk and rushed on to "meet & greet". At our Tuesday morning staff meeting, Donna told me it was from the 3rd an 4th grade Bible class, and the things inside it were messages to me. Well, it was Wednesday before I had a chance to slice it open and see what the messages were. Here they are - as they appeared on the tiny rolled up pieces of paper.
"Your the Preacher ever" w/ smiley face. I'm not sure if a word is missing or if it's a "styling" compliment, with a strong emphasis on "the". I still like it.
"thank you for teaching my parents about God - Sens they know about God they can tell me now." I love it that they are thinking about their parents.
"kind hearted, good Preacher, good singer, funny, cool, love u" You can't tell me that kids have no taste!
"funny, nice, cool, awesome, a good actor" I hope that last one is a reference to the play and not my preaching. Love it!
"You are awsomely awsome" Can it get any better than that?
"Pastor Mike: You are a wonderful man of God You have such a Gift from God." Wow! That is so encouraging and humbling because either this kiddo it way older than their years, or they have been hearing some wonderful things from their parents. Maybe both.
Thank you to the teachers who had their kids do this, and thank you to some great kids who made my day - maybe my week - hey, maybe my month!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Here's What My Heart Tells Me

In the last blog I offered the challenge to list the reasons why you believe in God. This is a brief overview of what I presented Sunday.

I introduced the subject by talking about those who deny the reality of the Holocaust in the face of so much evidence. My two transition sentences were: "Because of what my heart tells me about the evidence I've heard and seen - I believe, and therefore know, there was a Holocaust. Because of what my heart tells me about the evidence I've heard and seen, I believe and therefore know, there is a God." My points are not as much about scientific and/or logical arguments as they are about what my heart tells me. Here are the top reasons I believe in God.

1. Because I can't ignore my heart! The reality of God is innate. We are born knowing there is a superior being who is in charge. Every culture in every era everywhere knows it. We are more than instincts and needs, we know we have a soul. The very fact that we have to work to reject that shows we are more than just the top of the food chain.
2. Because I can't ignore order, design, and beauty! Who or what, in all of creation cares besides us? We know there is a "who" behind such a clear sense of purpose for everything. That is what Paul was refering to in Romans 1:19-20. "He is clearly seen in the things he has made."
3. Because I can't ignore my inner spirit that says "there is more" to life and living! I have a moral consciousness - a sense of right or wrong - a sense of "ought" that is more than education. I know there is something more - to come!
4. Because I can't ignore the testimony of others past and present! People I love and respect. People wise and educated, who did not see knowledge as ego. People who drove our history. People who were called by God, obeyed, and gave their lives in service to God. They are either a testimony of reality or they are all crazy.
5. Because I can't ignore that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Ps.139:14) More than design and spirit - a matter of "awe". Our bodies are more complex and amazing than any computer. Hundreds of systems performing thousands of tasks every second of every day. I also know it was never meant to last, and that's okay - there's more.
6. Because I hear God say "yes" when my heart asks him "Do you love me?" I know he does. He created me for relationship with him. He planned everything to make it happen. He paid the price and declared his love for me!
Conclusion: BUT what if I'm wrong? Have I really missed out on anything important? Love? Relationships? Quality of life? Character of heart?
BUT - if you ignore and reject God - what if you're wrong? You have to ignore your heart, the evidence, and your own common sense, just to feel better about your sinful living.
Didn't Jesus tell a story about a man who was surprised to wake up in torment?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

How Do You Know?

Do you know someone who isn't a Christian, who isn't a believer? What would you say if that person asked you, "Why do you believe in God?" Do you have some ready-made answers in your brain pocket to given them? Have you studied apologetics enough that you're ready and able to debate the existence of God? I have, but I'm not - ready or willing. I don't believe you ever change or win anything with an atheist, especially one who wants to argue their case. But what about that honest seeker who just wonders why you believe there is a God? What would you say? Have you even thought about it?
I am beginning a new series of lessons this coming Sunday on "The Reason I Believe" and the first lesson is "The Reason I Believe In God." I really didn't want to pull out my Christian evidence books and review all the scientific and logical arguments. I just want to answer it from my heart. Sure, part of what my heart says is based on some proofs and some logic, but it's a heart that has been seeking for over forty-five years. What's in it? Why do I know that God is there, involved, caring, listening, answering, and waiting? How do you know - or do you?
Take out some paper and a pen and write down your list. Not from someone elses book, but from the pages of your heart.
I'll share my reasons next week, after I present it to my church family on Sunday. Let's see if we match, or if you came up with something I should have.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Is life a "pair of bulls"?

Life is full of weird feelings. Some of them seem down-right contradictory - like crying with joy or laughing at sadness. That's a little bit what it's like to feel a "good tired." I mean, when you're tired - you're tired, and it usually isn't something to cheer about. This year's Bible Action musical took a lot of work. Everything from dress rehearsal through the four performances that ended Sunday night was fun and excited, but it really wore me out. Sunday usually does that when there's not a play. BUT, it feels good to be tired doing something that is worthwhile. It feels good to be worn out and sharing it with people you love to be with - and who are equally worn out. I've shared it multiple times, but our purpose or motto in the play, is "Have fun, do your best, and glorify God." It's truly a good formula for life, but it truly expresses what I feel like we all did with our play this year. It's thrilling to see a plan come together! It's exhilarating to see everyone stay focused and committed, and working like a well-oiled machine! It's uplifting to see extra chairs being put out during the performance as the overflow crowd continued to come in after the start of the play! It's wonderful to have such great shared memories that included family and friends and stories that we'll be talking about for years to come.

There are tons of spiritual lessons it makes me think about, as well as loads of scriptures that come to mind. But, the thing that echos in my heart more than anything else is - God is good! He answers prayers that we began praying many months ago. What really blows my mind is wondering how much he guided what we did? Did he put the people in place to pull this off? Did he put the ideas in my head? Did he use us to speak to someone who attended, who he wanted to hear the message we presented? Was it all part of an answer to a prayer someone besides us prayed? Who did he lead to be in our auditorium one or more of those four shows?

I guess it really isn't about what "we pulled off" but about what he did to accomplish his will!

Another reason for the tired feeling to be called good!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

What a great cast & crew!

Tonight is the last night of this year's musical. It has really gone well and I am so proud of the job that every cast and crew member has done. This is the cast picture that our good friend Ben took for us last Wednesday after the dress rehearsal. Click on it and enlarge it if you want to see faces a little better. We've had excellent crowds each night, and like usual, we've gotten better each night. It has truly been a lot of fun. It's just so nice to have people walk out after the show and tell us how much they enjoyed it, but also how they "got" the lessons from each of the three parables we retell as westerns. And of course, it's wonderful to see some old friends who came to see the show. It has truly been a blessing in every way and makes all the hard work more than worth it.
We've got a lot of family visiting with us. Some of the grand kids have seen the show every night. This week I'm hoping we can relax and just spend some fun time together. I'll try do a blog on Tuesday, and it might even be about something other than the play.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Dress Rehearsal

You'll have to come to the play to figure out what this is. It's safe to say it's something you may never have seen in a church building before.

This is the narrator's stage with me and Steve Bechtel (sitting) as the narrator's. The other two fellows are helping me sing my song about The Rich Man & Lazarus.

Dress rehearsal went well. It's a great play. We'd all love to have more rehearsals, but we'd feel that way no matter how many we had. I'm very proud of the great job everyone as done. Time to leave for tonight's first performance. I'll try to put some more pictures in a couple days.