Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Vacation

I'm two weeks into being sixty and I hadn't felt old until we went to a water park in Branson yesterday. We are on vacation, it's terribly hot, we have seven small children from one year old to ten, and it seemed like the thing to do. First of all, it was fun. I went down every slide, including the huge vertical drop slide where they made me take off my old guy hat, old guy white shirt, sun glasses, and water shoes. Hey, it was fun, even with my hands full of stuff. I went on several rides with the sons-in-laws and older grandkids, but the one time I took a long hike to a ride without my shoes I got huge blisters on the balls of both feet. Yes, we're talking old guy limping all through the park. The last hour and a half, after several hours in the park participating, I rested on our loungers in the Kiddie Park area while the guys did a last few rides.
So what did I do? I people watched! Usually that's fun - like at the airport or in a store. This was a water park with mostly naked people. I say "mostly" because it's been a long time since I was in a water park and I saw more flesh than I ever wanted to see. Some, because they were way too revealing and appealing. One cute lifeguard walked back and forth in front of me - guarding of course - and I found myself thinking, "She is a really good looking gal!" Then it dawned on me that she was half the age of my daughters and I felt like a dirty old man.
Then there were the Michelin Man Mammoths in rubber bands! Ugh! Why reveal SO much to SO many and risk sun burning so many thousands of square inches of unprotected skin? I know - don't look. That's like attending a Macy's parade and focusing on the sidewalk. I'm thankful for sun glasses and beautiful little children splashing in the water, who were much more enjoyable to people watch.
Yes, maybe I am getting old. Skimpy swim suits, tattoos, and skin piercings galore make people watching a lot different than it used to be. Oh well, the things you do for grand kids.
Bye for now. I've got to go put something on my foot blisters.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking With New Eyes

I woke up this morning, on vacation, finding myself thinking about some things that we talked about last week while at a retreat. We had some good classes and discussions about how to interpret the Bible and I found myself coming back to the same problem that I believe most of us have as we try to understand God's written Word. The simplest way to put it is, we don't seek objectivity. Most of us approach reading the Bible with several preconceived conclusions that make getting the real meaning difficult if not impossible. I've written about this before, but it just seems to be more obvious as I hear people preach and teach things that are not contextually honest with the passage they are dealing with.
For instance, if you begin your study of the Bible with a basic belief that Christians must meet together on Sunday morning for a formal time of worship, with prescribed directions from God about what He wants done there - you will find passages that you will apply to that belief. Your "pre-taught" conclusions about what church is supposed to be and do will effect how you read the Bible. If you come from an evangelical background, you will take passages about evangelists and apostles and infer conclusions to support what you already believe. Not because you discovered those truths from an objective search of scripture, but because someone else taught you and convinced you that those passages were talking about the conclusions you expected to reach. That doesn't mean that the conclusions are ALL WRONG! I'm talking about honest interpretation of God's Word. The point may be taught in scripture, but that doesn't justify taking any verse out of context.
What are some other preconceived conclusions that effect our objectivity? The list is probably as long as any and all topics we are taught before we can read it for ourselves. Things like looking for laws, fear of the Holy Spirit, institutionalizing the church, belief in ceremonial acts, and maybe more than any other, the belief in salvation by works, which we reject intellectually, but practice religiously. Another huge attitude that impacts what you find when you study God's word is when you are reading it for ammunition to prove a point you want to argue. I was trained and educated using scripture (selected scripture) as proof-texts so I could win any debate. Talk about something that will rob you of the Spirit!
Just think about it and ask yourself what kind of preconceived conclusions you have when you read God's Word. Can you truly be objective and see what God wants you see.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hi! Bye!

We have been out of town attending a retreat in Tennessee this week. I had hoped to do a blog while at the retreat, but between being busy and not getting good wireless reception there, it was impossible to do. This was our eighth year to attend this retreat and we had a wonderful time of seeing some great friends and enjoying some neat spiritual encouragement. It's always interesting that each year, as we make the drive to TN, I find myself thinking that I had too much stuff to do at home and the office to be taking time for this trip, but as soon as I started seeing old friends and having some great shared experiences, I remembered why to do it. There is a reason it's called a "retreat" and it truly is a great "get-a-way" time for us each year. Unlike other years, we have a family vacation trip planned for tomorrow, so we are going from one trip right into the next. We are all ( minus the NY branch) meeting at a really nice and large rental house just outside of Branson, right on Table Rock Lake. We will get to be together all week and enjoy some great family time. I can't wait to see everyone and do some things together in a place I've only been to once before.
So, there may not be many new blogs this next week either. There might be, if the wireless reception there is good. I still have to finish up a sermon for the Sunday we come back, so I will need some quiet alone time, but I usually get that early in the morning. So there may be a blog after all. Thanks for checking either way! Hope your week has been as good as ours has. God is good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Showers of Blessings!

Here are a few of the pictures I took Saturday at the shower Donna and several helpers had at our house for Ashley and Caleb. For some reason my camera isn't focusing as well as it should, but these will give you the gist of what happened. Donna and the ladies did a super job of preparing everything and hosting a great shower for the young couple.

This was just before the start of opening all the gifts. They really got some nice stuff. There really are some guys present. About four are in the basement with me watching the Outdoor Channel. (Did you see those deer on the wall? Awesome!)

There was "food, glorious food" in every room. Good stuff!

This was at the very start of the shower. Before I sampled several of the above.

This is for family. Please notice: The DESK! It really does have a top.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

When You're Hot You're Hot!

We are half way through our seventh year in north St. Louis, and it has been the craziest year yet weather wise. A long bitter winter was followed by bipolar spring, and now we have been setting summer heat records every other day. Hey - I'm thankful - at least it's not Texas, where the standard for HOT SUMMERS was seared into my body back in the '90's. Still, it's hot, and that effects the way we do church. How hot is it at church? Glad you asked.
It's so hot that...
1. We used the baptistry for a lobster fellowship!
2. We've replaced the word "brimstone" with "Coldstone" (as in ice cream)!
3. We don't let the "lower lights" keep burning! (Know your hymns?)
4. We call sweat - "showers of blessings"!
5. Hell really is everything outside our church doors!
6. Visitors are glad to not get "a warm welcome"!
7. We changed our "Coffee House Fellowship" to Pooped Popsicle People!
8. The elders announced that Air Conditioning was exempt from the "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" principle!
9. Three people who were "slain in the spirit" really just had heat stroke. (We knew all along they were mistaken!)
10. Wearing out a funeral fan is considered being "on fire for the Lord"!
11. We've cancelled all excitement until mid-September!
12. The biggest doubters in the church are asking if heaven will be air conditioned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


There is nothing unhealthy about honest doubts. For example, I know I'm saved. I spent my entire lesson last Sunday explaining why I know that. Yet, in my 46 years of being a Christian, I spent more of those years doubting my salvation than I have feeling secure about my salvation. As part of the introduction of my lesson, I made five statements about what it doesn't mean.
1. It's not about me being so righteous or good - I'm not!
2. It's not a matter of deserving it - I can't!
3. It's not about me figuring it all out - I haven't!
4. It's not about me having joined the right church - I was added!
5. I would be saved even if I didn't know it! Most of the time I haven't!
That last point is the one I want to emphasize. Most of my insecurities of the past, regarding my salvation, have come from the full awareness of sin in my life, and my sense of total unworthiness. My doubts, however, never kept me from searching and growing. I have said for many years that doubts are healthy if they are part of the growing process. They are unhealty if they are simply excuses to stop seeking or to make us feel better about our sins.
How can we think any other way? The very nature of seeking is asking questions, having doubts to remove, and searching for understanding. God is pleased and rewards the seeker (Heb.11:6), and that transcends our doubts and our ability to "figure it all out." Until I understood that what God wants to see in my heart was a desire to be going in the right direction (walking in the light - 1 Jn.1:7), I saw my journey as trying to do more good works and less sinful acts. Once I understood that going in the right direction meant my constant cleasing by the blood of Jesus - again, in spite of my sins which I'd be lying if I said I didn't have - I realized that salvation is HIS work not mine! (1 John 1:5-10)
What's the bottom line? I don't understand a lot of things in the Bible or in the mind of God. I don't think we were ever meant to in this life. And doubts? Yes I have some. Not about God and ANY promise he has made, but about many traditional teachings and conclusions that man has proclaimed. Our challenge isn't to know EVERYTHING, but to TRUST HIM! I believe that our level of doubting is directly related to our understanding of God's grace. What I have learned is that the more I come to know that his "grace is sufficent" for me, and that his power is made "perfect" or made complete when I am weak and absolutely MUST trust him - what is there to doubt? His grace is greater than my doubts, and I have no doubts about that!
His grace gives liberty and security. That may sound frightening to some, but his grace - when we really get it - makes us feel totally unworthy, and fills us with the motivation to please the One who could love us so much!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Is "Educated" past tense?

I like to learn new things and learn more about old things. When family and friends tease me about my favorite TV channel being the History Channel, I like to remind them that if I can learn something and have fun doing it, it's the best of worlds. Actually, the one program I watch daily - and have for many years - is Jeopardy. I enjoy the challenge of trying to see how many questions I can get right - in response to their answers. I do pretty well - as long as it's a category that covers my short range of knowledge. Please, no opera or poetry! I prefer history, news, and even geography, and of course, any Bible categories. I have to admit that I have missed several Bible related answers through the years. Usually it was some obscure name or thing that would never appear in a class or sermon. Still, you can't know it all, and I was really glad that millions of viewers weren't laughing at "The Preacher" who blew it on national TV!
I watch it for the fun of it, and not because I want to impress anyone, or even be impressed with myself. If I don't know something - big deal - who cares! No one knows everything, right? Well, excuse me - Who is God?
As I study God's Word and move from book to book and testament to testament, I am constantly struck with how much I don't know, and - more distressing - how much I've forgotten. How many times while preparing for my Wednesday class on Genesis have I found myself saying, "Wow! I never noticed that!" or "Oh man - I forgot all about that!"? And then I'll be skipping through multiple books of the Bible as I prepare my sermon, and find myself reading something that totally grabs my heart and causes me to feel like it has been way too long since I've been in that book!
I don't know - is God's Word just so big and so full that a lifetime of studying it will just make you hungry for more? Am I that forgetful, or are there just so many great treasures to be discovered in its pages that refreshing the mind is as much a part of growing as discovering it the first time? Jesus did say that the Word was a seed. I guess - how the seed grows is totally dependent on how good the soil is. If the soil is good and the seed germinates and grows, doesn't that mean it will never be the same any two days in a row? Both the soil and the seed?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Who Loves Ya Baby?

Last Sunday I was dealing with the reason I believe God loves me. What would you say if you were asked that as a question? Certainly John 3:16 gives us all the answers we need, but what is so simple is also amazingly complex. For this lesson I defined love a little differently than I have in the past, especially since I was talking about being loved. After working through some possibilities from others, I said, "You know you are loved when someone wants what is good for you. The bottom line? Love is honest unselfishness." No one does it better than God.
It seems to me that God's love for us is seen in three somewhat synonymous, mostly overlapping, and yet distinctive characteristic. I know God loves me because I know God's goodness, God's giving, and God's grace. Again, they are inseparable and, depending on what you are looking at, separate as each tell us something different about God's love.
God's goodness is his holiness. He always wants what is best for us, and that means he is good even when good things, from our perspective, don't happen to us. He is interested in our character not our comfort, and the truth is, our faith grows the most during times of trials and suffering. It all depends on our ability to have his spiritual perspective on life. (2 Cor.5:1-10 & James 1:2-4) The most difficult part of understanding God's goodness is understanding how a good God can allow pain and suffering. It's the most often heard argument from those who doubt. I compared God to a parent who lets their child join the basketball team even though there will be mistakes, failures, losses, benchings, and potential injury. How could you do something like that to one you love so much? You know why.
God's giving is part of his goodness, (i.e Jn.3:16) but love is also a matter of what you don't give. Why hasn't God made me rich? He has, it's just a matter of who you want to compare yourself to. Even if it's not what you think it should be, why would God give you something that Jesus said would make it so much harder for you to enter the Kingdom of God? He is interested in our spiritual growth not our material ownership. Sometimes a loving God loves us so much that He has to say no to what we think we need. Hey - remember what he had to say to his only Son when he asked, "Let this cup pass from me."
His grace is his giving from his goodness, but there is nothing like it. Grace is God's love applied to my sinfulness. It is a holy God making a way for an unholy person to be declared holy. We keep wanting to limit it and qualify it, as we seek to judge who gets it and when it's applied, but his grace is greater than our arrogance. All other doctrines rest on it, (see Romans 5:1-5) and it is given in spite of us, not because of us (see Eph.2:1-10). Once we begin to grasp what it is and does for us, it becomes our power to deal with life. (see 2 Cor.12:7-10) Not only is it all we need, it means he dearly loves me.
God is so good!