Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Safe to Assume - Is it?

I mentioned a while back that the first casualty of biblical interpretation is objectivity. As I reflect on that, I realize how much I have been driven over the last few years by the desire to do just that - understand God's Word free from the baggage of pre-taught and predetermined conclusions. Like many things in life, it's easier said than done. I had many years of being taught what the Bible said, long before I was filled with a passion to truly know what God was saying. So for many years, passages of scripture that "I knew," because they were regularly used to prove a doctrinal position I'd been taught, became sections of scripture to skim, sometimes ignore, and often never study in the larger context of what the Holy Spirit was saying. Some of those same passages, now don't say what I'd always "known" they said. Some of them are NOW far more exciting, challenging, and full of grace then they were when I used them as proof-texts to support my positions.
I am also discovering how many conclusions I have be taught, and taught to others, are conclusions I/we infer from passages that support what we have already concluded. If you study the New Testament with the predetermined mindset that there is a formal time, place, and way that Christians worship God - I'm talking about a Temple worship mindset - you will find passages that support that belief, even if you have to infer that was what the Holy Spirit was talking about and there are zero commands to base it on.
We read the Old Testament because it tells us about God, how He works, and how He tells His people what He wants. The one thing that is absolutely clear from any study of the OT is that God is very clear about what He wants. When did He ever expect His followers to do anything with eternal consequences based solely on figuring it out from and example or from an inference? What God wants, God commands. An example or an inference is only valid if it supports a direct command from God. And yet, we have no problem developing major doctrinal positions based totally on what we infer from examples or biblical witnessing. It doesn't mean they don't count, but it does mean they are not a primary source of determining obedience.
Does it matter? Yes is does. Do we really think that God's will is a jigsaw puzzle to be pieced together? Does it make sense that God's plan for redeeming man, which was in place pre-Creation, and cost His only Son's death on a Cross, and is totally built on love, is dependent on our ability to infer what He wants us to do?
Commands are always a primary source. It's how God works. Whatever your personal passion is as far as your journey to know God, or whatever you believe the church should have a passion about - does it come from a command or did you start with a conclusion and then find verses that infer that your conclusion is correct? Again, it's not always about something being wrong, but about honestly interpreting, and being a person "who correctly handles the word of truth."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Slap Heard Around the Church!

I have to say that I've always focused a lot more on the last half of Galatians than I have on the first half. If it wasn't for Gal.2:20 ("I've been crucified with Christ...") I'd say nearly all my memory work in Galatians comes from chapters 3-6. I mention that to simply point out that Paul's confrontation with Peter in chapter 2, has mostly been "interesting" and in the category of "a novelty" for me, because I just didn't quite see the relevance and the application for me. My bad. If someone like Peter can get so distracted and out of focus that it takes Paul opposing "him to his face" because "he was clearly wrong," I need to sit up and take notice! After a couple decades of being an apostle, an elder, a missionary, a preacher of the gospel, and a "pillar in the church," he allowed peer pressure to pull him into ignoring his non-Jewish brethren and hobnobbing with the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, forgetting everything he personally heard from God about not showing preferences (see Acts 10). Paul said he was being a hypocrite! This was more than just switching dinner partners one night. It hurt those brethren who had been slighted, it seriously damaged his influence as a leader in the church, and - maybe worst of all - he dragged others into the same hypocrisy. Paul said that even Barnabas was pulled into following Peter. Paul was shocked, and I think, hurt by that. Here's the Son of Encouragement being discouraging to all the Gentile Christians!
Clearly the biggest thing that disturbed Paul - and you must remember that he's the new guy with lots of folks questioning whether or not he was legitimate - was that Peter's decision to associate with the "circumcision" group, meant that he was promoting (probably not intentionally) the law over grace and faith in Jesus Christ. Paul screams - you can't have both! Only one brings justification (i.e. salvation) and it isn't the law! The only thing that counts is being "in Christ" - this is where you can quote or sing Galatians 2:20.
It's frightening to think that any of us could so cavalierly do something that could do that much damage! Just because we want to be accepted by some group of people who intimidate us or might not include us? As much as I love vs.20, I must say that it's vs.21 that probably hit Peter between the eyes like a sledge hammer, and took him back to a morning breakfast on the beach with Jesus.
"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Special Hunting Buddy

One of our grandsons sent us his class project, Flat Stanley, so we could introduce him to St. Louis and put together some pictures for him to use when he has to share this with his class. So, Caleb, I decided that Flat Stanley needed to go with me on my first hunting trip of the year. He seemed to enjoy the drive down to my hunting spot just outside of Sullivan, MO.

FS was a little nervous about being in a tree stand twenty feet off the ground, especially since I didn't have a safety belt for him. So he held on a little tight. Just as well, he was lacking some decent camo.

He tried to pull my bow back, but he couldn't quite do it. Still, I could tell he was ready to see something for me to shoot at. He's a born hunter. You can see it in his eyes.

FS hung on pretty tightly. He was my official bino-man, but he never saw anything.

Since the hunting wasn't exciting enough for FS, he decided to take my ATV out for a spin. He's a real speed maniac.

I finally found something that gave FS a real thrill. He's still picking bugs out of his teeth. What a wild man!

We didn't see many deer or come home with anything for the freezer. It was just a bunch of guys sharing an experience in the wild. Hope FS can come back for a visit some time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Trail Camera Pictures

Missouri bow hunting opened last week, so we just got back from a short two day hunting trip to my hunting spot outside of Sullivan, MO. I had gone down a couple weeks ago and repositioned mine and Danny's stands and put up my trail camera. These are my first trail camera pictures of the year. That nice little 8 pointer above came past my stand the day before we got there. Unfortunately, while the camera showed deer movement every day, nothing came by my stand Sunday evening, Monday, or this morning (Tuesday). Oh well, that's why they call it hunting and not killing. I was pleased with all the nice pictures I got. I had 150 on the camera, fifty were of my arm or hand putting up or taking down the camera. Another 50 were empty - probably a squirrel running by faster than the camera could catch it, and about 50 with some form of deer on it.

You might have to click on this picture to enlarge it and see it clearer. It's a momma doe and her little fawn - still with spots. Must have been a late season birth.

This is a nice buck, and I think it's still in velvet. Hard to tell with a night picture. Wish he'd come past my stand. Still plenty of time left in the season.

Again, you might have to click to enlarge this, but it's a really nice buck with nice tall tines and big body. I will definitely be looking for him later in the season. My tree stand is actually just behind the deer to the left of the picture. The camera is ten yards from my stand. Hope to have some better pictures soon, especially when I set up my cameras (three now - how did that happen?) in IL.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"I'm happy today, oh yes I'm..."

John Steinbeck once said, "A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ."  What grabs me most about his quote is the idea of a sad soul.  That is a deep sadness that goes beyond having an unhappy day, or being temporarily depressed about things in life.  A sad soul is a mind-set, an outlook on life, or maybe a permanent habit of looking at the world through a glass that's always half empty.  It's seeing the ray of darkness in a field of light.  It's seeing a world of people with specks in their eye, and assuming it's just camouflage for the planks that must be there.
A sad soul is sitting in the critics seat and never feeling any responsibility to commend others, be constructive, or contribute to any one's joy.  A sad soul is basically a selfish soul.  Yes, there are exceptions, but we've all known the secret to happiness most our lives.  Happiness comes from making others happy.  The sad soul is sitting back waiting for someone to do that for them, but it won't be enough, and it won't change a thing.  The more we focus on ourselves and dwell on what we need or what we don't have, the more we wallow in self pity and sorrow.
When those thousands of people journeyed out from their towns and cities to listen to the new prophet from Nazareth, they were poor people.  They had no transportation, no food, and time from work was time not making a living.  But they were seekers, and they hoped the new prophet named Jesus would show them how to draw closer to God.  What he gave them - right out of the bag - was what we call the Beatitudes.  A really strange way to begin a lesson.  And contrary to what we've always said about "blessed" being another word for happy, and that they would be happy if they had these spiritual attitudes, he was telling them that God understood their hearts and their deep desire to seek Him.  Each Beatitudes was a promise that God knows and would bless everything they were doing to seek him.  They were poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted on their journey, but they should "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven."  Jesus was telling them that their souls where in good hands and that is a reason to smile from the heart!
Often, a sad soul is not a victim of hardships or tragic circumstances, but someone who has never discovered that real living is found in unselfish giving and, more than anything else, being at peace with our God and Father.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are You Smarter Than An Eighth Grader?

When I was preaching in Nashville, there was a young brother who became a pretty close friend.  Ocassionally he would come by my office and we'd study and pray together, and spend a good bit of time sharing some very personal things in our journey to know God better.  At that time, I was really discovering, or maybe rediscovering, the primacy of thankfulness if we truly wanted to draw closer to God.  In private discussion I said to him what I later used as a permanent prayer on this blog, "God has been so good to me, and I am so thankful for the wonderful life he has given me, that anything that comes from this day on is truly gravy."  That was said as a profession of thanksgiving, but later, when for reasons still unknown today, he became dissatisfied with our church family, he put that quote from me in a letter of complaint to the elders to point out that I was "burned out" in my ministry.
How could something that was being said as a praise of thankfulness to God be interpreted as the words of a burned out preacher?  I don't know, but I do know that communication - that is, being understood - is always a complicated process.
Many times we assume someone understands what we are talking about, or at least our perspective, and we don't explain things as completely as we should.  That's a real problem in marriage, because after so many years together, we assume our spouse knows what we are thinking so we don't have to explain things.  Wrong.
I have often mentioned to people that I preach on an about an 8th grade level.  It's not just me, any and all public speakers, even if they don't know it, nearly always speak on a Junior High level to be understood by the greatest number of people.  NO, that doesn't mean that you prepare your lesson and then go over it to "dumb down" your message for the "lowly masses" of people you have to talk down to.  Most of us, yes even with multiple graduate degrees, speak to one another on about an 8th grade level.  That has nothing to do with conceptual understanding or intellect, but has everything to do with vocabulary.  I could throw in all kinds of theological terms that I've learned from scholarly volumes or papers, but why?  To impress others?  To sound erudite and superior?  The goal is communication not personal grandeur.
I am profoundly convicted by Paul's declaration to the Corinthians, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  It was essential to him that they understand, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Cor.2:1-5)  There were some at Corinth that evidently thought Paul's message was too common, too basic, and lacking eloquence.  They didn't want to be challenged by a crucified Jesus, they wanted to be impressed by a polished public speaker.
No, an eighth grade vocabulary is all you need to share Jesus, confront sin, and show the way to find hope.  Everything else is fluff, fizzle, and fake.  If you don't know what those words mean, ask an eighth grader.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Weekend With Good Friends

We were blessed to have our good friends Don and Kathy Rose with us for all of the Labor Day Weekend. We spent a lot of time talking, eating good food, going to some neat places, and playing lots of Fargle and Hand & Foot. It was essentially a cruise vacation w/o the cruise. Saturday was the last of the triple digit summer heat wave, but we still managed a great trip down to Union Station. Sunday was full of church activities and having a reunion of some of our Panama Canal trip people. Fun evening. Then on Monday, with wonderful cool temperatures and deep blue sky, we took them to Eckerts in Grafton to pick peaches and apples. It was a lot of fun. The above trailer is waiting for us to board to take us to the apple orchard.

This is the peach orchard we walked to first. It was late season and a little hard to find a bunch of nice looking and ripe peaches, but as you can see, we did ok.

This is Kathy, Donna, and me waiting for the aforementioned trailer.

We drafted a nice guy to take our picture after we'd paid for our peaches and apples and taken them back to the car. He was such a nice guy and did a pretty good job - considering the subjects.
From Eckerts, we drove over to Hardin, IL and had a great lunch at Mel's Riverdock restaurant on the IL river. It's where I eat breakfast after a morning hunt. Good stuff! Then we drove down to the Mississippi River and took the Golden Eagle ferry across to St. Charles. It's a really fun trip that we have done with several folks who visited us.

Don & Kathy are dear friends and we truly treasure getting to spend four days together. Can't wait for our winter vacation cruise this February when we get to do even more of everything we did last weekend but in a warm Caribbean location - and on the Grand Princess! Yeah!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Things that make me smile

For the last couple of weeks I have been making a list of little things that make me smile. Of course, some things on the list aren't so small, but they are all things that, when I see them or think about them, they make me smile. As I say regularly, we can grow no higher spiritually than our level of thankfulness. These are just some things I am thankful for - and they are in no particular order - just what I happen to add to the list on any given day. Maybe they will make you think of things you are thankful for.

Quiet moments on my back porch
Watching humming birds come to our feeder
My iPad (where this list was developed)
Wild flowers
Turtle concretes at Fritz's
Seeing kindness
Baby giggles
Loyal friends
Sitting next to my wife
Short dental check ups
Remembering God before getting out of bed
Everything Sunday
Mimosa blossoms
A good book
Chips and Ranch Dressing
My daughter's blogs
Skipping shaving
Being finished w/ my sit-ups & push-ups
People passionate about anything
AC (it's 104 today)
Hearing anything from my son
Fargle w/ friends (called Farkle by some)
People who are truly thankful
Sam carrying Frodo
Vacation with family or friends
First cup of coffee in the morning
Seeing loved ones reunited
Las Fuentes
Have I mentioned my back porch....

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Additional Thoughts

I've been working on a new list of "Things that make me smile" for the last couple of weeks. I add one or two to my iPad each day as I think of things. I'll put them on a blog next week, Lord willing. In the meantime, I want to add to a blog I wrote last week about being a people pleaser. First, when I referred to elders being a good example of people pleasers, I was talking elders in general, though I suspect my fellow leaders here are driven by that same need too. I would just remind you that the whole blog was about me being a people pleaser, so I certainly wasn't picking on or condemning anyone. I was just pointing out the impossibility of living with the misguided feelings that you must, or can, please everyone.
So - have you ever noticed when you spend time reflecting and praying about something, God has a way of helping you out? Part of my text for this weeks lesson is a verse that seemed to jump off the page and slap me around. So, for all my fellow people pleaser family and friends, I share it with you so you can be part of the slapping - if you need it.
Paul said, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please mean, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Gal.1:10)
Ouch! And what does that do to our feelings that being a people pleaser means we are servants of Christ?