Friday, August 31, 2012

Young Guns?

We had a special treat this past week.  Last Sunday evening we had a devotional that was led by several of our young boys, and an even larger group of young girls led a devotional on Wednesday evening.  The two groups trained and practiced all Summer long with a couple of our teachers before sharing their talents with us.  It was fun and encouraging to see these young people lead songs, make talks, read scripture, and offer prayers.  I loved the song leaders asking people to stand every time they led a song.  The preference of every song leader!  They all did such a good job, and it was nice to see some young people doing things that many adults seem more and more reluctant to do.
The fear of stand up in front of an audience has always been at the top of a majority of people's list of fears.  One of the great benefits of these young people starting out at such an early age overcoming that fear, is that it will enrich and benefit them for the rest of their lives - if they will continue to participate in such things.  It will certainly place them in the minority of people who have such talents and capabilities.  It brought back a lot of memories for me as I remembers those first times I got up in front of a crowd.  I think it was one of the great benefits of going to a small Christian school starting in the 7th grade.  We had chapel every day, and when I saw that all my buddies weren't afraid to get up and lead a song, read a scripture, or say a prayer - I thought "I can do that," and I did - for six years.  By my Junior year in High School, I was making Chapel talks and preaching occasionally at some area churches.  Overcoming my fear of being in front of an audience (to preach) was not one of the fears I had to work through when I went off to Harding University to get my degree in Bible.
One last thought about seeing young people leading an assembly.  I remember the "old folks" talking about how much they enjoyed it when I led something at church when I was a kid, and I remember thinking "It can't be that big a deal, because I know I'm not THAT good!"  Now, as one of those "old folks,"  I know it's not about "how good" a job I did or they do now, but about seeing young people give, share, rise above their fears, and do something to glorify God.  Even if those things aren't on their mind, it's what they/we "old folks" see - and that is always encouraging to anyone who wants to know that the future looks promising.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's Good To Be Like God!

I can be like God!  Really!  This isn't a joke about Doctors or some kind of misguided mythology.  Not only can I be like God, the Bible tells me that is exactly what God expects from me.
Probably one of the most ignored and intimidating verses in the whole Bible is Ephesians 5:1, "Be imitators of God."  I have certainly been guilty of "observing the pass-over" on that verse - which is amazing considering how much I use the verse right before it!  I always connected 4:32 with the "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths," (vs.29) which does seem to conclude with "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Period - new chapter - new verse - new subject!  Wrong.  If the "therefore" had come before that next phrase "Be imitators of God" I wouldn't have been able to miss the connection!  BUT - the call to imitate God is part of forgiving one another the same way God forgives us!  SO - BE LIKE HIM!
What really makes it difficult to deal with is our tendency to automatically associate being like God with ego and/or being in control.  We know that is the wrong mind-set, but we've heard too many jokes and too many stories about people who THOUGHT they were a god.  And then add the other complication of assuming it means being perfect/holy like God.  No problem there- right?  Even when we understand that his grace makes us holy, we know that self-generated perfection is not an option.  So - we end up skipping over this and moving on to the stuff about husbands and wives, and the armor of God.
The beauty of this passage is that the Holy Spirit tells us how we can imitate God.  As "dearly loved children" we "live a life of love."  That life of love is living unselfishly and sacrificially for others - the way Jesus did.  It's not about perfection but about loving others!  Jesus "loved us and gave himself up for us" and that is a "fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  The Holy Spirit not only defines imitating God, but it gives us the perfect example of what it looks like.  Jesus!  Imitating God is living a life of love for others.  God is love, and love is greater than perfection, but his love for us makes us perfect.  Remember, according to 1 Corinthians 13, love is even greater than faith and hope.
So, in spite of my sin and imperfections, I can be like God.  As I grow in love and learn to love others in an honest, giving, and sacrificial way - I am being like God.  There is no ego, or control, or need to feel superior to anyone, but rather loving others so much, like Jesus did, that I'm thrilled to be His servant and love Him by loving others the way He does.

Friday, August 24, 2012

"The making of many books..."

I mentioned a while back that I was trying to get back into a routine of writing so I could finish a book I have been working on for a long time.  Well, the above picture is of the hard copy I printed off so I could edit the NOW finished book.  It's sitting on my desk, all 284 pages, double-spaced, and loaded with things to rewrite, correct, and - in a few small cases delete.  I've started reading through it for the first time and have been pleasantly surprised that I haven't found a lot of thing from those first days of writing that fit into the "What was I thinking" category.  I'm also adding some discussion questions to the end of each of the seventeen chapters.  While I'm glad to have it finished, at least the core writing part, I'm not excited about the chore of looking for a publisher.  My last published book came out nine years ago.  I actually have another book that I wrote after that entitled The Quest For Gratitude, but the only publisher I sent it to hung on to it for so long and never gave me a commitment, and I just lost interest in working to get it published.  Maybe I'll re-look at it after this one is placed with a publisher.  Anyway, maybe someday, in the not-to-distant-future you may see my new book on a book store shelf somewhere.  For now it's entitled God's Tool Box, an expanded version of some lessons I presented several years ago, and with a lot more stuff to get me in trouble with the Brotherhood Police.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thinking & Speaking

We've been looking at some selected themes in Proverbs in my Sunday morning class.  Last Sunday we began talking about the need to Think Before You Speak.  My mother use to gently remind me of the importance of that regularly.  One of the Proverbs we discussed was, "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.  Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." (16:23-24)  One of life's greatest challenges is saying the right thing at the right time.  And timing is a huge part of it.  It is no accident that the very next verse is the familiar "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (v.25)  While our words may not lead to a physical death, they certainly can lead to the end of a relationship.
My "after class thinking" since Sunday took me down a parallel road with that thought.  Sometimes wisdom isn't a matter of saying the right thing at the right time, but simply knowing when to keep your mouth shut.  One of the great lessons I learned from my wife's parents, my in-laws, is if your adult children don't ask for advice - don't give it.  In addition to seeking their own sense of independence, they are also seeking acceptance and affirmation.  They don't always approach life the same way you did when you were there age - so what!  They need to form their own priorities and family traditions just like we did.  Our job is to support and encourage them, and keep our opinions to ourselves unless asked.  My in-laws were the best at that, and I hope we are too.  I'd love to be asked for advice or in-put, if it's really needed, but the one thing I remember clearly about being a young married "out-law" is that need to prove I was capable and worthy, and at times that kept me from seeking guidance that I'm sure would have helped.  And through the years, after that "need to prove myself" became un-necessary, I did want to know "what they thought" about certain things.
I have seen the damage that can be done when wisdom is replaced by opinionated and judgemental thoughtlessness.  "Our way" is not the "best way" - it's just ours, and to selfishly insist on "our way" is the quickest way to have loves ones seek "the highway" and not the one that leads back home.  "Pleasant words are a honeycomb" and maybe that's why a loving, considerate, and wise family spend so much time sharing those words - on the phone, FaceTime, texting, Skyping, and - most of all - being together.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Just a though - from Whom?

It's been a long time since I mentioned it, but I believe there are four elements in our relationship with God.  We must seek him, serve him, sense him, and share him.  That'll preach!  It's not just a nice alliteration, but it's what I see in God's Word.  Seeking is the desire to connect, serving is the obedient response, sensing is the deepening relationship, and sharing is the witness we can't hold back.  Of the four, I suspect that sensing is the one we understand the least and scares us the most.
Our relationship with God is a relationship of faith.  I can't reach over and touch his arm like I can with my wife, but I need a relationship with him that is just as real as the one I have with my wife.  My relationship with God deepens the more we communicate.  That is the most important building block of any relationship.  As we talk more, my faith grows.  As my faith grows, my sense of his presence grows.  I know he is there - now - everywhere I go, and I find comfort in that, rather than feeling trapped.  The greater my sense of his presence, the great my sense of his reality.  It's not just "I believe" but "I know" when I think of him.
The more I sense his presence the more I am aware of his voice.  No, it's not some whispering in my ear or some new revelation, but it is the awareness that godly thoughts, subconscious ideas, and pangs of guilt may not all be just from my thought processes.  God can put a thought in my mind just as surely as Satan can.  Nothing has ever limited or restrained the voice of God except our own hearts.  Closing our ears is something that takes place about fifteen inches lower.  I wonder how many times I have ignored, blocked out, or openly rejected the voice of God?
The next time you get a great idea about serving, helping, lifting up, or just doing what is right - recognize that the voice you're hearing may not be your own.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Start Your Engines!

One of the things I like most about our three mile walks each morning is talking.  Sure it's great to get the exercise that comes from a brisk three mile hike early in the morning, but being able to visit while we walk makes the time go by faster and it gives us the time to communicate about things we might not make time for during the day.  This morning, we were talking about our decision to keep our two older vehicles just a little longer.  Part of our rationale comes from pure "sticker shock."  A new vehicle cost more now than the first houses we looked at buying - back in the Dark Ages of course. The other reason for our decision is simply a matter of priorities.  We'd rather spend money on other things that mean more to us than a shiny new car and the huge car payment that goes with it.  Anyway, our talk was really about all the things we may need to do to keep our cars reliable and dependable.  Especially Donna's twelve year old Saturn.  She loves it, and it still gets 35 mpg, but many of the parts in the engine are getting old and in need of replacement before they go out.  We were talking about replacing generators, alternators, and Universal belts - just to be on the safe side - especially when she wants to drive it to Nashville or Searcy.
Few things amaze me more than today's car engines.  Every time I look at my tachometer, as I'm driving on a trip, and think of all those pieces of metal moving together at 2500 to 3000 rpms, mile after mile and hour after hour, pulling thousands of pounds of vehicle, people, and stuff down the road it just seems incredible.  All those pieces and parts working together at such a high rate of speed and endurance to get me to my destination.  Wow.  It makes me think of the last sentence in that great passage from Paul about the church existing to mature people in Christ.  He said, "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does it's work." (Eph.4:11-16)
The church is like a the motor of a car.  When each part is working properly, it gets the job done!  When leaders do their job of equipping the members, the members grow in  unity and faith, and begin to mature in Christ.  When that happens, they stop being babies deceived by men or Satan's tricks, and they all grow up into a deeper relationship with Jesus, who holds the whole thing together.
If a church family isn't growing, one of the parts is not working properly.  It's either the equippers, or the ones equipped, and if I understand what Paul is saying, it takes ALL parts working to bring about growth and love.
I guess you could blame it on running out of gas, but that's a different analogy for a different blog.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Missing Picture

This is the "contrast" picture I wanted for the last blog.  I took it last Monday with my iPad emailed it to our computer and it didn't download until yesterday (Sunday).  Go figure.  Anyway, you can see how dry the pond was before the rain last Wednesday.  The crane is standing smack in the middle on dry ground.  Praise the Lord, we got some additional rain last night.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lessons From A Pond

What a difference a day makes!  There's a song there somewhere.  I took a picture of this same pond on Monday and there was a white crane standing in the middle of it - on dry ground.  It had really dried up much more than the pictures I posted last month.  It was down to a small pool off to the right and we expected every day to see dead fish floating on the surface - like so many other ponds in our area.  But then came the rain on Wednesday night.  When we got up yesterday morning, the pond was back to having water from shore to shore.  It's hard to tell it because of all the weeds that grew up on the dry soil of the pond.  It's nice to see it looking like it's supposed to look.  Since it's scheduled to be re-dug next year, I still think they missed a great opportunity to do it while it was mostly dry.
Being the preacher that I am, when I saw the water back over the pond it made me think of that passage in Titus that says, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having hope of eternal life." (3:5-7)
On Thursday morning I felt like I could hear a collective "AAAAAAH!" from all the frogs, turtles, fish, and other critters that inhabit our pond.  That's how our spirits feel when we think about the cleansing we have in Christ, and the constant refreshing of his Spirit being "poured out on us generously."
Oddly enough, our pond became another illustration to me that wasn't so refreshing.  We had suspected that it had become really shallow - especially as we watched cranes walk around in the water and it being only knee deep for them - but once it became dry, we could clearly see how shallow it was at our end of the pond.  Just a couple inches of water made it look like a deep and health pond, but in truth, it's in terrible need of dredging and re-shaping.  Wow - if that's not a lesson, I don't know lessons!  How many times in the Bible does the Holy Spirit warn us about having a surface faith?  Jesus called it having a righteousness to be seen of men.  Maybe some of us need spiritual dredging to deepen our faith, and strengthen our walk with God.  Our pond started out deep, but gradually became shallow.  That's an even scarier lesson to comprehend, but whatever the lesson, the washing of rebirth and renewal can only come through Jesus.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Worthy Living?

I can't begin to guess how long I have known about all the "ones" of unity in Christ Paul mentions in Ephesians 4.  They truly are the foundation upon which all unity can, and must, come for Christians.  However, as I was preparing for last Sunday's sermon on Eph.4:1-6, the part that really gave me pause - that made me think the most and fill me with fear, was his introductory charge.  That first verse is super-loaded with power, passion, and promise.
First he said, "As a prisoner for the Lord."  Literally, "Remember who I am and why I'm where I am! Then listen to me because I have earned your undivided attention!"  How can you not pay attention when consider who is talking?
Then he cried, "I urge you."  It is a plea, a personal scream of passion for all who read it to not treat what he is about to say lightly.  Bottom line - this is extremely important stuff to Paul!
Then, it's the bomb-shell!  He said, "live a life worthy of the calling you have received."  I've never felt worthy about anything in my life!  I'm a sinner, I deserve death, and here he is calling on me to live a worthy life!  The word "worthy" literally means "bringing  up the other beam of the scales".  It is not a call to be perfect or sinless because that's not going to happen.  It's a call for balance in our life.  It's a call for consistency.  Be the the person we profess to be.  Live the confession we made so it's not just talk.  But mostly, if we truly are the "called out" of God, it must show in how we treat one another.  The prelude to keeping unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is "bearing with one another in love."  Love is always the secret to peace!  In fact, I think Paul is saying that our calling is reflected in our love for one another!  John said because God loved us we ought to love one another.  It is a love for love proposition, and it is the key to unity, growth, and maturing in Christ.  Living a worthy life is living a loving life.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Ten Rulers 4 Righting?

I have always loved puns, double meanings, and any kind of play on words.  My family knows that such things are the foundation of my sense of humor.  I really get a kick out of signs that can be taken different ways, like "Slow Children" or the one on I-270 that warns "Congestion Ahead" - that makes me want to take an allergy pill.  One of my favorite road signs has long been removed, but it was at the state line of every Interstate coming into Virginia.  It said, "Radar Detectors Subject to Seizure".  I always had visions of someones radar detector rattling off the windshield as they crossed the state line.  It made me laugh even if I was the only one in the car who thought it was funny.  Anyway, my buddy and co-worker, Jerry Williamson, found the following on the Internet and passed in on to me.  I love it and had to share it with my fellow bloggers, but especially my family.  From the title through every point, it's my kind of humor.  Enjoy.

How To Write Good
By:  Frank L. Visco

1.  Avoid alliteration. Always.
2.  Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3.  Avoid cliches like the plague.  (They're old hat.)
4.  Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
5.  One should never generalize.
6.  Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
7.  Be more or less specific.
8.  Sentence fragments?  Eliminate.
9.  Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
10. Who needs rhetorical questions?