Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rambling Routines

One of the interesting transitions in my life has been going from being part of a family group who made fun of the family patriarch, to being the partriarch who is made fun of.  Donna's dad was highly loved and respected, but that just made teasing him or making fun of his peculiarities that much more fun.  We knew he saw it as a display of love.  All his children and their spouses, still have wonderful warm memories of Dean and the things we made fun of that really made us love him even more.
The last several years (can you say decade) - since all our adult kids have gotten married - it has been interesting to hear all of them (especially spouses) make fun of my "unique" way of doing things.  It started with pointing out and laughing at the different emphasis I put on some words or syllables with the vocal tone going up rather than staying flat.  It's hard to explain because I don't hear it or know what they are talking about.  I feel certain they would be more than happy to demonstrate an example for you.  I have a feeling it's from my northern roots/Roots in some way or another.
They know, and of course make fun of, my love of routines.  Yes, I plead guilty, and can only say, "wait until you have another 20 or 30 years, and then tell me how you feel about routines."  In all fairness, I am more than willing to shake up my routines if the cause is worthwhile (i.e. vacations, family visiting, bowhunting, etc.)  I like it when things go as expected.  It's comforting and it's peaceful.  What's wrong with that?  I've said it before, but the reason I like routines - only in some areas of my life - is because there are things I don't want to waste time making decisions about.  I don't need multiple choices of what kind of coffee to fix first thing in the morning, I don't need to spend time mulling around what's next on my schedule, and I don't need to spent time trying to think of a new restaurant to go to when I know what I like and what I want.  There's another reason, closely related to that,  for why I like some routines in my life - I simply have things I'd rather concentrate on, think about, fugure out, or solve some problems.  I like thinking time.  I thrive on being creative.  I love exploring new ideas.  I truly enjoy coming up with a new way to approach God's will and understanding his Word.  Routines give me the time I need to keep moving - doing what needs to be done, but still allow me to have important things churning in my head.
I was actually thinking about all this as I went through my morning clean-up-and-get-ready-to-go-to-the-office routine today.  I had two thoughts that jumped into my head at nearly the same time.  First, "aren't routines nice?"  The second thought was something like this, "I sure hope my communication with God, my study of his Word, and my ministry for him never becomes a routine!"
There ya go.  The Good, the Bad, and - the ugly is - I can see the day approaching when a nap just may have to be part of my daily routine.  I can hear the jokes already.
And by the way, unlike my quiet, reserved, and sainly father-in-law - all my kids know I can and will dish it out as good as I take it.  Some things don't always stay the same.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Harp With No Strings?

Sometimes it's important to harp on something!  In years past, my loving wife used to gently warn me that I was speaking about worship being our life rather than one hour on Sunday - too much.  I reached that doctrinal conclusion while in college in the early seventies, preached it as a series in the mid-eighties, and wrote my first book about it then, but couldn't get it published until '91.  Two church of Christ affiliated publishers were very interested - at first - but then decided it was too controversial to risk publishing it.  So Spilt Grape Juice was published by a Christian Church publishing company, who also published three other books of mine.  Anyway, I can't stop preaching about something that for me, and many others, was and is so life changing -  life freeing, and life directing.  Worship is a life given to Jesus!  The Christian assembly was only meant to be a spiritual "pep rally" to help us grow in love for one another and for him.  It is not, and never was meant to be, how we define ourselves as followers of Christ.
Now, having harped on that again, my lesson this past Sunday on Ephesians 1:14-23 reinforced my strong belief that the modern church has (often) missed the simple primary purpose for existing.  As I have pointed out over and over - yes harping - the church has only one purpose and that is maturing member in Christ (Eph.4:11-13).  That simplicity gets lost in "doing church" they way we have traditionally been taught.  Paul's compliments to his brethren in Ephesians 1, I believe, not only points this out, but he tells us the "how" and "why" of what Christian togetherness is all about.  The reason he is so thankful and prayerful for them - the reason for his deep affection for them - is spelled out in two simple statements of purpose:  1) "your faith in the Lord Jesus" and 2) "your love for all the saints."  That is what church is all about.  We are in the faith and love building business!  Paul, like John does in his first epistle, connects our seeking after a deeper relationship with God with our growing in love for one another.  Makes perfect sense!  God is love!  We only know God to the extent we know love!  God gave us a spiritual family to learn how to love!  It's what church does - our should do!
A growing faith and love will cause us all to want to serve, give, and witness to others.  We expect the later but have no idea if we're doing the former.  I think it's logical to assume that if we don't see service, giving, and witnessing, it's probably a good indication of a need to rethink what we do to build faith and love.  I don't say that to complain or point fingers and anyone but me.  It reminds me that I must be about the business of guiding people - one at a time - into a deeper walk with God.  So, I guess I'll be doing a lot more harping - at least to myself if no one else.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kind Memories

As I was doing my morning walking yesterday, I was thinking about the awesome power of a kind word.  We've all been impacted by little comments of encouragement from people throughout our life, and we probably aren't aware of how life changing some of them have been.  To the person giving it, it was probably just a short moment of thoughtfulness - doing something they do many times a day - and they moved on not thinking much about it at all.  Yet for the receiver, it was, like the Spirit tells us, "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (Pr.25:11)  We just had a beautiful and valuable work of art placed in our lap.
I may have mentioned the comment a while back from one of our young adults.  She made a point to wait around after the Sunday morning assembly, and after most of the crowd had passed by me, she wanted to share a special blessing with me.  She said, "I know we, our age group, don't usually tell you, but I wanted you to know that I have really appreciated the lessons you've been presenting.  They have helped me and made me think."  She was right, and she was awfully sweet and considerate.  It's always special to hear from a segment of the church family I don't often hear from.  She really did "make my day" that Sunday.
When I was much younger, preaching just outside of Washington, D.C. in Fairfax, Virginia, we had a very mobile and transient membership, primarily due to so many members being military.  The Fairfax family was an unusual family in that everyone came from somewhere else - there were no roots (except for us) - and it was a highly educated group.  During that time an Air Force officer in the church family, who has been and old friend now for a long time, said something to me that uplifted me then, and has stuck with me for three decades now.   He probably doesn't even remember saying it.  Johnnie said, "You are the first preacher I've heard who justifies his salary by the quality of your lessons."  It still makes me say "Wow" today, but it was especially encouraging to me as a young "whipper-snapper".
Then there was the introduction that one of our elders gave about me as we were having a special service with lots of visitors.  I don't remember what the occasion was that required an elder to introduce me, but Scott Chambers made a statement about me that I'll never forget.  He said, "Mike is not as young as he looks or as old as he sounds."  Wow - again!  I remember thinking hard about that and it took a while for me to fully "get" what he was saying.  It was a huge compliment - after all- and not a joke.
These just reminded me to look for ways and opportunities to give a kind word of encouragement to others.  We may never know how we can touch a life with just a few thoughtful words.
Now - I'm ready for someone to say, "Mike's not as old as he looks, or as young as he sounds."  Funny how time changes things.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's All About Him!

I shutter to think about how many times I read the first fourteen verses of Ephesians 1 before I noticed how much and how often Paul says "in him" or "in Christ."  It's not an accident.  All that we are and hope to be in our relationship with God comes through Jesus.  That's both ways!  What God wants, in terms of a relationship with us, and what we seek in a relationship with him - happens in Jesus!  There is a very impressive and comprehensive list of what Jesus does for us in those short verses.  Ephesians is "all about Jesus" and the difference he makes in us.  This is the statement I had in my outline Sunday:  "The whole letter is about what we have in him, should do in him, think in him, change in him, strive for because of him, and how we should treat one another because of him."
I have been troubled and convicted for several years now as I have come to understand the total focus his church is to have on Him.  We have one job as a church, and that is to mature people in Christ (Eph.4:11-16).  When that happens, the "effects", which we tend to emphasis first, will begin to take place.  Expecting immature members to give, serve, witness, and commit huge chunks of time to ministries when they don't have a passion for Christ will always lead to disappointment.  The traditional practice of defining "faithfulness" by attendance and involvement, doesn't cut it any more.  Guilt and threats don't work.  God wants his people to be together to encourage, equip, and edify each other as a tool to help us draw closer to Jesus.  Our preaching and teaching must be Christ-centered.  Our fellowship and service together must focus on being Christ-like and not just building cohesion.  Our witnessing must come from thankful hearts that are overwhelmed by what we have "in him," and a desire to share that with anyone God gives us the opportunity to interact with.
I guess what concerns me the most is that my brief contribution to helping every member mature in Christ is so - so - well, brief.  A thirty minute lesson is a cup of water poured over a dry lawn.  Even adding a 45 minute Bible class doesn't take it out of the realm of "brief."  It takes relationships, small groups, spiritual friends, mentoring shepherds, and opportunities to grow in knowledge, prayer, service to others, and witnessing.  Maturing in Christ can't happen as a hobby, or even A SECTION of a busy life.  It's about "seeking" not limiting, scaling back, and reducing.
I have to remind myself daily that we are in the "opportunity" business as a church.  All the church can do is give members lots of opportunities to grow in many different ways.  The Bottom Line is that we each will give account of ourselves to God as individuals not as a church.  My relationship with God is up to me.  My devotion, service, and "living sacrifice" is up to me.  The church is a support system - a tool to help, not the judge, jury, and prison guard of those who refuse the help.  Our job - my job - is to "preach Christ and him crucified" and help everyone to remember that ALL spiritual blessings are "in him."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Deep Dozen

I have always been blessed with having lots of very gracious members who are so good about mentioning how much my lessons have helped them in some way.  It is always so encouraging to hear comments that not only talk in generalities, but specifically mention something that truly touched them and helped them in their walk with God.  This has been especially true with this last series about Living A Life That Counts.  Each week I had  several people comment about how they were helped and enlightened by something I shared.  I was especially encouraged to have some young adults even make a positive comment. They're a tough crowd to please, but one I try hard to include.  I have mentioned to several people about how challenging the series has been, and how thankful I've been to have six decades of experience/life to draw from as I put each lesson's principle together.  If I had done this series ten years ago, it would have been a lot different - not wrong - just different.  I really like knowing that they have been so helpful to so many.  If copies of the CDs and the sermon outlines being grabbed is an indicator of how well they have been received, then it has been a really good series.  But, as always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I am praying and thinking about using these lessons as the foundation of a book on that subject.  Just thinking right now.
For those who care or who may have missed some of them, the following is a list of the twelve principles of living a life that counts.
1.  Life is about loving and being loved
2.  It's about serving rather than being served
3.  It's about learning and teaching
4.  It's about desiring the right treasure
5.  It's being a steward not a stealer
6.  It's seeking integrity over popularity
7.  It's seeking joy not just happiness
8.  It's thankfulness not expectations
9.  It's living by the Golden Rule not being ruled by gold
10. It's seeking souls over success
11. It's choosing trust over worry
12. It's choosing not to judge (specks vs. planks)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"I did not come to judge you!"

I have said on many occasions that there are two subjects you can teach or preach on that will always generate guilt to any sensitive listener.  They are giving and evangelism.  No matter how much of either one we do, we still feel like we should do more.  That, of course, doesn't apply to those of us with the innate ability to deflect, ignore, and rationalize.  After closing out my series of lesson last Sunday on Living a Life That Counts, I would add one more instant guilt producer to the list - judging others.  We all do it and we've all had it done to us, yet we keep on doing it regardless of the fact that we have been so grossly wrong in our judgments of others and they have been equally wrong about us.  Jesus challenged his followers to be non-judgmental but rather live by the "Golden Rule" when we find ourselves tempted to do it.  His classic comparison in Matthew 7:1-5 about pointing out the specks in the eyes of others when we have planks in our own eyes, is not only a great sarcastic hyperbole, but a incredible memory tool.  None of us will ever forget it - though we may temporarily ignore it.
So, principle #12 is, "A life that counts is a life that chooses to not judge others."  My lesson was again simple and direct.
1. Judging:  Some things to consider!
   A. There is a fine line between evaluating and judging.
     1. Evaluating is making a quick conclusion from life experiences, but we must recognize  they are surface, shallow, and often wrong.
     2. Judging is forming an opinion and choosing to be critical and condemning. (Jn.7:24)
   B. "Fruit inspection" is not a license to judge!  (Mt.7:15-20)
   C. Judging comes from and leads to assumptions not the truth!
2. Judging:  Some things to avoid!
   A. Comparison: the source of most judging (James 4:11-12)
   B. The need to feel superior = source of racism, bullies, poor self-esteem, etc.
   C. Self-righteousness = comparison w/o spiritual integrity (Lk.18:9-14)
        "Being right does not mean being better!
   D. Judging is letting others control your peace & contentment!
3. Judging:  Some things to try!
   A. Try only comparing yourself to Jesus!  (James 1:22-27
   B. Try giving grace! Eph.4:29; Rom.14:1-4&12-13; Lk.6:37-38
   C. Try to grow a fearless faith rather than a fearful faith!  It's you & God not what others think!
Conclusion:  Since we misjudge so much, how much have we misjudged the love of God?  How wrong have we been in how we see and understand Him?  What about our judgments of Jesus?  After all, some Pharisees called him a "drunk" and a "glutton".

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bible Action Cheerleaders

Between catching up and cleaning up after the play this week, and trying to get done the usual weekly things that must get done, AND having a house full of family - well, there hasn't been much time to do a blog.  So I thought I'd just share this picture of all eight of our grand children as they took a moment to pose for a picture after one of the shows last week.  I have to say, of the hundreds and hundreds of people who come to see our play, no one looks forward to it more or enjoys it more than they do - especially the older ones who have been at all of them.  They are all such sweetties, and it's been fun having them here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Four Great Shows

 Another awesome musical is history.  We had four great show and four great audiences.  Again, we were probably around the two thousand in the total attendance mark.  I was very proud of the dedication and execution of every cast and crew member as they pulled it off night after night.  Above is the opening number "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat."
 Leonard and Robin did an amazing job of being Ahab and Jezebel and their "Priests" kept everyone laughing with their back-up movements.
 Elijah has the evil queen and her attendants working on him.
 This is all the senior angels with Elijah and the widow.
 The crew did a beautiful job of pulling off true "Baal Devotion."
We had to give a light-hearts "exit" to the prophets of Baal as they were being led off after Elijah's great victory on Mt. Carmel.  450 were taken away to be killed, but I thought it was a little too much for the kids in the audience - so they got the "Na Na Na Na" song.  Notice the surprice "Wilson" on the Baal/Ball.
The big finish was - well BIG.  We are very thankful for all those who attended and that every performance went so well.  As the song we sang says, "God has smiled on me"!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Some Time With Family

While waiting in line for the tram at Grant's Farm, I took this iPhone picture of our youngest grandson Andrew.  What a happy baby for having two ear infections.  It was pretty cool, but not too bad until we got on the tram and the breeze was blowing pretty good.  Can you say, "BURRRRRR?"
The elephants totally captivated Daniel, so Nana had to help him get one last look at them.
This was all of us taking pictures of Caleb, who was a volunteer for one of the shows we went to.  All, except his mom whose head is hiding just the other side of Donna.  Deborah has a "thing" about mice and rats and she just couldn't bring herself to watch what was happening.
It was a race of rats between two teams.  One was the two boys, Caleb being the far one with the rat on his shoulder, and a team of girls to the right just off the picture.  Caleb's team won, but I'm not sure how much his mom saw of it.
The always impressive bald eagle.  It sure is nice having an easy to use camera/phone close at all times.  It's going to take some time to get use to it and remember I have it.  It was a great morning to be out at Grant's Farm with family.