Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fun In the Snow

A picture from last January.

More Robinson Crusoe Than Stuffy Analytics

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Numbers. Numbers? Yes!

It is often forgotten. It is often avoided. Just the title of the books scares people away. It also happens to be located in that area of the Bible most people tend to skip over when they are doing their daily Bible reading. But, Numbers is full of great stories and important lessons . . . lessons that still teach us today!

Indeed, the preacher of Hebrews had the stories of Numbers in mind when he warned, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (Heb. 4.9-11). The "example of disobedience" the preacher is citing is that of the first generation of Israelites freed from Egyptian slavery, the very people whose story is told in the opening chapters of the bbok of Numbers.

It is a rather sad and tragic story. God, in his great mercy, had freed this people from oppression in Egypt. He had brought them into a wilderness on a journey to a land "flowing with milk and honey," to a land of great promise and blessing. Yet, the people rebelled against God, they doubted him and amazingly looked past all of the great things he had done and was doing to deliver them and keep them safe. They turned their backs on God and desired other gods. They rejected his way of things and the order he demanded in life and gave themselves to carnal pleasures and pursuits. And, so, God condemned them to die in the wilderness. And die they did, every single member of that generation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, men who remained faithful to God.

The first 25 chapters of the book of Numbers tells the tragic story of this first generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt. The following 11 chapters tell the story of the second generation, the children of the former slaves. A distinctive feature of Numbers is the two censuses that preface the two sections of the book. In chapters 1 and 2, God commands Moses to count the people, specifically the men of each tribe. In chapter 26, Moses is commanded to count again, but this time he is counting a new generation; the older generation had died as a result of their rebellion and faithlessness. The book of Numbers needs to be read with an understanding of this structure.

The book of Numbers is really a manual on how to survive the wilderness journey (and, on the flip side, on how to fail on the wilderness journey). The wilderness journey is a motif to describe the life of faith in a faithless world. God was leading the Israelites through a difficult and threatening place to prepare them for the life of blessing ahead. In the opening chapters of Number, God tries to prepare his people for the arduous journey, but the course of the narrative shows that they did not take serious the preparation and the resources given to them by God, and they failed. The second generation, on the other hand, is shown as taking God seriously and, ultimately, they succeed where their parents had failed.

The Apostle Peter describes Christians as "strangers in the world," as "sojourners in a foreign place." God's people, men and women of faith, Christians, find ourselves in a world that is different from ourselves. We are in the world, but not of it. This world is not our home, we are journeying another place . . . to a land of eternal rest (to use the metaphor of the Hebrew writer). We, like the Israelites before us, need to prepare for the arduous journey before us. The principles found in the preparation given by God to the Israelites in Numbers can help us. The lessons learned from the failure of the first generation of Numbers can help us to avoid the pitfalls that will surely stand in our way.

In the coming days and weeks, I will devote this blog to a study of the book of Numbers (with an occasional break for other ramblings). I hope that you will follow me in this study. If you are not that familiar with Numbers, and even a bit intimidated or put-off by it, I imagine that by the end of this study you will have changed your mind and come to love this great book.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Headlines


Now that's balance!
Two of today's headlines caught my eye:

"J. Russell Coffey, age 109, one of last 3 known U.S. World War I vets, has passed away." What a great American!


And, another headline, just as it appeared, without any revision: "With her charming wink-'n-nod jokes, many Hillary Clinton fans say her sincerity doesn't matter." Run as fast as you can to support whoever the Republican nominee ends up being.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Praise God Who Helps the Weak


The prayer of Psalm 146:

My whole being, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praisies to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes
or other people, who cannot save you.
When people die, they are buried.
Then all of their plans come to an end.
Happy are those who are helped by the God of Jacob.
Their hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
the sea and everything in it.
He remains loyal forever.
He does what is fair for those who have been wronged.
He gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord gives sight to the blind.
The Lord lifts up people who are in trouble.
The Lord loves those who do right.
The Lord protects the foreigners.
He defends the orphans and widows,
but he blocks the way of the wicked.

The Lord will be King forever.
Jerusalem, your God is everlasting.

Praise the Lord!

Is It the Girlfriend?

I'm not the first to make the observation, but . . . ?

Yesterday. The Cowboys get beat by the Eagles. The worst game of the year (and career) for Tony Romo. Girlfriend Jessica Simpson cheers from Romo's box.

One year ago. The Cowboys get beat by the Eagles. The worst game of the season (and to that point, career) for Tony Romo. Girlfriend Carrie Underwood cheers from Romo's box.

Coincedence?

Perhaps Romo should go to games stag from now through the second Sunday of February!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Shiprock



A great picture of the Shiprock. I'm not sure who took it, but it is spectacular. And its in my back yard (so to speak . . . 85 miles to the north).

Where's Nolan When We Need Him?


I wasn't surprised. Disappointed, yes. Angry, a little. Surprised, unfortunately not.

I'm speaking of the Mitchell Report on steroids in Major League Baseball released yesterday. The long list of names did not surprise me . . . even Roger Clemens.

I've been a Clemens fan since he came up with the Red Sox in 1985. The '86 Red Sox club remains one of my all-tim favorites . . . even Bill Buckner! Like Barry Bonds, Clemens was a potential Hall of Famer before he began taking steroids. According to the Mitchell Report (and its voracity seems ironclad to me), Clemens began to "juice" during the 1998 season, while he was pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bonds, according to the allegations made against him, started his steroids regimen following the 1998 season, that "majical" year when Mark McGwire and Sammy Soso were pursuing and ultimately passed Roger Maris for the single-season homerun record. Before 1998, both Clemens and Bonds had already posted numbers that guaranteed their induction into Cooperstown. Clemens had already been awarded 4 Cy Young Awards, as many as any pitcher in hisory (to that point), and Bonds was alread a 4-time Major Leagues M.V.P. Before, both Clemens and Bonds had been in the Major Leagues for over 12 seasons. But, when most players ould be stisfied with their careers and looking forward to retirement, Clemens and Bonds were searching for an edge, for something that would keep them competitive for years to come.

Was it for the money? It is a fact that Clemens and Bonds have earned millions more in the years since 1998 than they earned in the 12+ years before. Their motivation to juice could simply be a case of greed . . . wanting an ever increasing series of contracts.

Was it the need for acclaim? It is true that those we place on pedastals often get addicted to the praise and adolation we give them. We've all heard stories of the washed up atheete everyne has forgotten. Does anyone remember Danny White? At one time, he was the highest rated passer in the NFL. He led the Cowboys to three straight NFC Championship Games. Yet, today, when people hink of the Dallas Cowboys and the great quarterbacks that the franchise has had, the list usually includes Meridith, Staubach, Aikman, and, now, Romo. White is conspiciously absent. My point? Simply that our athletes, once they leave the playing stage, are often forgotten. Perhaps Clemens an Bonds could not bear the fact of being pushed off the stage, so they sought to prolong their caeers as long as possible.

Was it jealousy? In the book written a few years ago outlining Bonds' perported steriod use, the authors claim that Bonds began his usage following the 1998 season because he was angry and jealous over the acclaim given to McGwire and Sosa, both of whom he was convinced had used performance enhancing drugs. The book claims that Bond was angry that his hand work was being overshadowed by those who, in his mind, cheated. The authors claim that Bonds decided to sell himself out and show that he could outdo anyone. He had done so clean (before 1998), and now he would do so on a level playing field with McGwire and the others.

By speculating as I have, I am not trying to rationalize the behavior of Clemens and Bonds and others like them. They cheated. Major League Baseball should respond accordingly. If I were a Hall of Fame voter, I would refuse to induct anyone who is shown to have purposefully and systematically used performance-enhancing drugs. That hurts to say, because I was as much a fan of Mark McGwire as I have been Roger Clemens. I was never a fan of Barry Bonds, but I acknowledged him as the greatest ballplayer of my generation (and that was before 1998). But, cheating should carry with it consequences.

My larger point, however, is that society at larg has helped produced the circumsances that fueled these men in their excesses. Perhaps the publication of the Mitchell Report should cause all of us to pause and reflect on how we put too much emphasis on athletes and athletics. Instead of making the sports stars stand at the pinacle of our pedastals, why don't we place much of the acclaim we give it to our school teachers, public servants, those who keep the peace and security of the community, and the blue collar workers who have built this country and keep it running?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Favorite Athletes


I have several lists of "Favorites" on the righthand column of my blog. One of the categories is "Favorite Athletes." I am a sports nut. I was never a great athlete (in fact, I was rather subpar), but I love sports . . . as a spectator!

My favorite sports are football and baseball. I also like golf, tennis, and basketball. If playing is involved, add volleyball to the list.

From my list of favorite athletes, it should be obvious who my favorite teams are: the Dallas Cowboys (pro football) and the St. Louis Cardinals (pro baseball). Add the Oklahoma Sooners to the list if we are talking college football. And, don't forget the San Antonio Spurs (pro basketball). Of course, to throw a bone to my Colorado friends, I must add the Denver Broncos as a distant second NFL favorite, and, after this past season, the Colorado Rockies have supplanted the L. A. Dodgers as my second favorite baseball team.

Now back to my favorite athletes . . . .

I love athletes who are first and foremost gentlemen away from the game . . . good sportsmen, great husbands and fathers and members of the community. I root for those who have overcome great difficulties to become what they are today. Of course, it helps if they wear a star or a redbird on their uniform/jersey!

My favorites . . . .

#1- Roger Staubach . . . would any self-respecting Cowboy fan have any other at the top of his (or her) list? Simply the greatest . . . a legend! My only regret? I was only 10 years old when he retired from the NFL (I still remember his announcement . . . broadcast on the radio as I was in the car with my family reurning from a trip to Oklahoma). The only game I remember vividly with him playing at quarterback is the 1978 Super Bowl . . . vs. Denver . . . Dallas creamed them, 27-10!!! And, against an old Cowboy at that . . . Craig Morton.

#2- Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean . . . Hall of Fame pitcher for the "Gashouse Gang" St. Louis Cardinals of the 1930's. I was born in 1970, so how did "Dizzy" make the list? Strat-o-matic Baseball gets the credit (my junior high through high school years were spent playing Strat-0-matic!). My team? The 1934 Cardinals. Dizzy was 30-7 that year and won two games in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers (his brother "Daffy" won two more to hand the Cardinals the Championship).

#3- Bill Bates . . . simply the toughest Dallas Cowboy to ever wear the uniform. And, that says a lot for a franchise that boasts the likes of Randy White, Bob Lilly, "Too Tall" Jones, Darren Woodson, Roy Williams, and Charles Haley. I am wondering when Jerry Jones is going to get around to retiring #40 and installing Bates in the Ring of Honor.

#4- Nolan Ryan . . . I was already a big fan the night I saw Ryan interviewed following his record 7th no-hitter (his closest competitor has only 4!). Instead of celebrating with champaign or a night out on the town, Ryanwas interviewed while he was riding an exercise bicycle . . . his work was not done for the night. Hard work. Perseverance. Nolan Ryan knew the secret to success. (Another Ryan highlight: beating Robin Ventura senseless when the White Sox 1B charged the mound on him.)

#5- Jack Nicklaus . . . even with a Tiger on the prowl, the "Golden Bear" is still the definitive golfer of all time . . . and a class act off of the course.

#6- Pete Sampras . . . quiet, unassuming, "lights out" on the tennis court. Never the showman, always the professional.

#7- Joe "Ducky" "Muscles" Medwick . . . another "Gashouse Gang" alum. One the of the most forgotten greats of the game. He was the best all-around hitter in the National League during the 1930's. He is the last NL batter to win the Triple Crown (1937). His picture graces the top of this post.

#8- Michael Irvin . . . the reason I have written this post. Michael Irvin has not always been one of my favorites. There was a time I was embarrassed he was a Dallas Cowboy. But, Irvin is a changed men, and I am quite impressed with his transformation. He puts himself forward now as a man of God, committed to his faith and family, and from what I can tell, he is extremely sincere. Did you hear his induction speech given at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August? It was the most profound speech I had ever heard from an athlete. His words preach!!! (Another selling point? I met Michael Irvin, and shook his hand, when he was a rookie with the Cowboys . . . that man has big hands!)

#9- Satchel Paige . . . if it had not been for the blatant racism in baseball during the 1920's, 30's, and 40's, Satchel would have gone down as the single greatest pitcher in the history of the Major Leagues. His stuff was unbelievable. He comes as close to a pitcher being able to "call his pitches" and get anyone out at anytime.

#10- Albert Pujols . . . another Cardinal . . . perhaps, by the end of his career, the greatest hitter the Cardinals have ever had. And, that says a lot for a team that has boasted Stan Musial, Ducky Medwick, Johnny Mize, and the incomparable Rogers Hornsby.
Beyond my Top 10 . . . Tim Duncan, Tony Romo, Randy White, Tony Gwynn, Francis Oimet (thanks to the Shia LaBouf movie I recently saw), Chris Evert (had to have a female on the list), George Foreman, David Robinson . . . .
Of course, no list of athletes would be complete without mention of a coach. My favorite coaches list begins and ends with one name . . . no either need apply. His name? Tom Landry. Who else's name belongs there?


Those are my favorites. How about yours?

Resourceful


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

There Goes Another One!

I live and work approximately 200 feet from one of the busiest railines in the country. About every fifteen minutes throughout the day and night, a frieght train comes rumbling down that line (and often there are two trains crossing past each other). Living in a mobile home, a passing train will get your attention . . . especially at 3:00 a.m.!

I have always been fascinated with trains. My most special Christmas gift was an electric train set Santa (a.k.a., dad & mom) brought me when I was five years old. I don't remember it lasting long, however. I was too good at staging train crashes! And, I also had a tendency of leaving the current on and burning up the motor.

A thought struck me this morning . . . how many tons of stuff are these trains carrying past my house each day? One hundred trains (a conservative estimate) . . . most over a mile in length . . . how many box cars? . . . flatbed's holding cargo containers? . . . automobile transports? . . . tanker cars? . . . coal cars?

I once paused long enough to count the cars on a train hauling automobiles. The train carried 87 transport units (I don't know the official term). Each one of these units had eight brand new vehicles . . . high-end vehicles (Lexus, Mercedes, Land Rover, etc.). That's a total of 696 luxury automobiles! A conservative estimate on their cumulative value? $52 million! That's just one train! There were at least 99 others that passed by on that day. Wow!

A lesson? Not really. More of an observation on the consumer-driven, consumable society we live in. It amazes me how much stuff we, Americans, go through. We are certainly blessed. But, can we not say that we are also spoiled . . . spoiled by our own indulgence?

Don't get me wrong. I am all for the free market. I am glad that people are able to purchase a Lexus. Hard work brings great rewards. But, I'm still looking for the train that is carrying 87 boxcars full of Bibles :-).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!



There are so many twists and turns on this journey we call life. Many we can see from afar, and we can prepare ourselves for that bend in the road, for the hill that looms ahead. Many, however, are hidden from our view and come upon us most unexpectedly--the sudden drop-off that takes away our breath, the hidden curve in the road that turns all so quickly, the pothole that is underneath our feet before we can adjust.

The obstacles are a part of the journey. We can make every effort to become more diligent, and many of these hazards before us can be spotted before they bring us a great challenge, but there will always be some difficulties for which we are unprepared.

Life is not always a bed of roses, there will always be thorns in the mix. You've heard the proverb, or a variation of it. I've had my share of thorns, and I know you have, too.

The pothole in the road ahead does not stop us from journeying on, does it? The thorn in the midst of the roses does not keep us from enjoying the sweet smell, does it?

My point? We keep on despite the difficulties that lie ahead and the hidden hazards that threaten. We keep on because we know that there is a way ahead, a passage past the hard times, a broad and level road beyond the twisting and turning and stead path we tread on today.

I am reminded of the Israelites. The Lord freed them from a life of captivity in Egypt, promising them a land "flowing with milk and honey." But, the land of Canaan was not adjacent to Egypt. A vast and threatening desert separated the two lands. Into this wilderness, God led his people. At every turn, there was an obstacle to overcome--lack of food and water, enemies, heat, self-doubt, pagan influences. Many succumed to the threats. Indeed most died in the desert without ever seeing the land to which God was bringing them.

We must keep going, going over and around and even through the hazards that stand before us. We can come to the end of our journey, no matter how twisting and turning our way, because we are not alone.

Jesus told his disciples, "In this world you will have trouble, but be brave! I have defeated the world" (John 16.33, NCV).

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Am Still Very Hungry, Lonely and Cold


One of my favorite pictures. Someone e-mailed it to me years ago.
The following is a great wake-up call. I am not certain of the author.
I was hungry and you formed a humanity club and discussed my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of God's love.

I was lonely and you left me alone to go pray for me.

You seemed so Holy, so close to God, but I am still very hungry, lonely, and cold.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Movie Picks

I'm no Siskel or Ebert (although Ebert and I do resemble each other in the mid-section!), but I like movies . . . good movies. Here is a listing of some GREAT movies I have watched during the past few weeks. If you haven't seen them, head to Blockbuster . . . or do the NetFlix thing.

Amazing Grace. The story of William Wilberforce's crusade to end the slave trade in Britain in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Wilberforce was inspired, in part, by John Newton's hymn, "Aamazing Grace." Newton had been a slave trader who can to see the great evil of slavery and who spent the waning years of his life in penance. I was familiar with the basic story of Wilberforce and his crusade, but the movie brought the details to life.

The Bourne Ultimatum. The third (and final?) episode of the Bourne series. The greatest spy series ever filmed, and this third film is the best of the lot. It will be released on DVD on Tuesday, December 11.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Produced originally for HBO, from the book of the same tittle. It is the story of the Sioux from their victory at Little Big Horn to the establishment of the Sioux Reservations in South Dakota. (I just purchased the book at Waldenbooks!)

I am wanting to see American Gangster and the National Treasure sequel.

Of course, I must get my annual Christmas Story fix, and I always watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy during the holidays.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Whiter Than Snow

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool" (Isaiah 1.18).

Friday, November 30, 2007

I've Been There!


Computers are great, but we've all had those days when we'd like to throw the machine out the window!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Food Musings


My last Sunday at Cortez . . . with my girls!
Is there anything better than a plate full of green chile beef enchiladas?

Okay, okay! A BIG bowl of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream smothered in chocolate syrup and sliced bananas!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Translated Into Life


The story is told of three preachers discussing the various translations of the Bible and the respective merits of each. One liked the King James Version best because of its formality. Another favored the New American Standard because of its closeness to the Greek. The third insisted on the New International Version because it was so easy to read.

A wife of one of the preachers spoke up. She said simply, "I like my mother's translation the best."

The three men expressed surprise. They did not know her mother had translated the Bible.

"Yes, she did," insisted the wife. "She translated it into life, and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw."

We all need to do more "translating" of the Bible into our lives. The examples we set before our children and others tells them how we translated God's word. We need to live a Christian life before our children instead of telling them to do it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Real Heroes

My hero doesn't wear a cape; he doesn't have an "S" blazoned across his chest. My hero doesn't don a helmet with a star, or wear shoulder pads, or give life to "Romo-mania." My hero isn't a legendary rock guitarist, or a moviestar, or a Wall Street mogul. My hero wears a uniform (of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines, or Coast Guard . . . take your pick) and has bravely voluntered to serve in defense of his (or her!) country.

Today is Veteran's Day. Sadly, I often think of it as the "Forgotten Holiday," because too little obeservance is made of it. Oh sure, there is a parade here and there, and there are public programs of different sorts, but does Veteran's Day rise to the level of Thanksgiving in the conscience of people, or even Labor Day?

The men and women who serve in our military, who put their lives on the line so our freedoms remain deserve our the heights of our respect. They deserve all the recognition that we can bring to them and every honor that we can bestow. Let our appreciation go much deeper than some 30-minute parade or some passing reference.

Another lament: in a similar vein, Memorial Day has been reduced to picnics and homemade ice cream, and we've lost sight of the countless heroes who have not merely put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms, but have paid the ultimate price for them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Today or Eternity? Which is More?

An appeal: visit the Manuelito Navajo Children's Home website. Remaking the site has been my work over the past couple of weeks. It is nothing flashy, but it provides a lot of information about MNCH. The Home has been blessing the children of the Navajo Nation for nearly 50 years. Please pray that we may continue to minister to those in need. If you can help us in our service, check out the website and see how you can be involved. We can use your help.

____________________

Perhaps you have heard the story told by Sigmund Freud.

He told of a man who became shipwrecked and stranded on a remote island. Upon discovering the man, the natives of the island declared him to be "King for the Year." The man, while shocked, was excited about his newfound forture, until he began to wonder, "Where are all the past kings?"

To his horror, he discovered that once a king completed his year rule, he was exiled on a desserted island, left there to die.

The man, never a quiter, and quite resourceful, used his year rule not to live in luxury, but to prepare for his exile. He discovered the island to which he would be exiled. He sent a steady stream of workers to the island, commanding them to build a palace, and storehouses, and to provide all the comforts necessary for a life of ease. He commanded that servants be housed on the island and those who would serve as companions. At the end of his year-long reign as king, his intended exile had been transformed into a comfortable home.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6.19-21; NRSV).

What is your life focus? On what are your present energies being expended? Are you living for today, immersed in the pleasures of this world, or are you looking forward to the life to come? A life focused on the moment, solely concerned with what today can bring, is a life that in the end will forfeit the fullness of eternity to come. A year of luxury, or an eternity of fullness? Which is more?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What Is a Home?


(I found this wonderful statement in a 40-year old publication of the manuelito Navajo Children's Home. It was authored by Ernestine Schuman-Heink.)


What is a home?

A roof to keep out the rain? Four walls to keep out the wind; floors to keep out the cold? Yes, but home is more than that.

It is the laughter of children, the song of a mother, the strength of a father. Warmth of loving hearts, light from happy eyes, kindness, loyalty, comradeship.

Home is first school and first church of young ones, where they learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind. Where they go for comfort when they are hurt or sick. Where joy is shared and sorrow eased. Where fathers and mothers are respected and loved. Where children are wanted. Where the simplest food is good enough for kings because it is earned. Where money is not so important as loving kindness. Where even the teakettle sings from happiness.

That is home. God bless it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I'm Back!

In case you were wondering, I haven't wandered into oblivion. I have had a very busy and complicated past few weeks. Time does not permit me to elaborate at the present, but in time, I will comment on what has been happening with me.

A quick update: I am transitioning into a new job and home. I have been hired by the Manuelito Navajo Children's Home to serve as the Director of Development & Church Relations. The Manuelito Home is located in Gallup, New Mexico. I am finishing up in Cortez over the next few weeks.

By the way, an explanation on the title change to my Blog. I no longer reside on Fillmore Street, but I am about 200 feet from old Route 66.

Monday, October 8, 2007

In the Steps of the Pioneer

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Christopher Columbus is certainly one of the giants of history. Others had come to the shores of the Americas in the centuries before he set sail in 1492, but Columbus is the one we recognize as the pioneer whose "discovery" led to the great exodus to the New World. It was the cision and determination of this famed explorer that helped expel the fears, superstitions, and limited thinking of the Middle Ages.

A pioneer is someone who leads a people or a nation or a world to a new place, whether it be a land, knowledge, or identity. Pioneers go where no one has tread before and opens up trails and vistas and realities that were only dreamed of before their labors. Pioneers make possible that which was once dismissed as impossible. Where would the world be without the likes of Christopher Columbus?

Jesus is called a pioneer by the writer of Hebrews. The title is first given to Jesus in chapter 2 or this great book along with a quotation from Psalm 8.

Psalm 8 speaks of mankind with very lofty terms--God says that man is the pinnacle of his creation, he has "crowned them (mankind) with glory and honor" (v. 5). Yet, the reality of the moment is much different: this glorious image of man has become tarnished by sin, and man is not now what God made him to be at the beginning.

The point made by the Hebrew writer is that Jesus is a pioneer in the sense that he has, through his atonement, restored faithful mankind to the glorious beings God created. Jesus, in his labor, has shown us the way to our Father. He has trod the path. Jesus, in his coming, dying, and raising, has opened up for us a new trail and vista and reality. let us follow our Pioneer to the grand and glorious New World that stands before us.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's Just an "E"!


Perhaps you have read this before. I am unsure of the author, but it is profound.


Xvxn though this kxyboard is an old modxl, it works quitx wxll xcxpt for onx kxy. It has wishxd many timxs that it workxd pxrfxctly. It is trux that thxrx arx forty-onx kxys that do function wxll xnough, but just onx kxy not working surx makxs a diffxrxncx!

Somxtimxs a congrxgation is likx this kxyboard--not all thx mxmbxrs arx working propxrly. You may say to yoursxlf, "Wxll, I am only onx pxrson. I won't makx or brxak a projxct." But, it doxs makx a diffxrxncx bxcausx any projxct, to bx xffxctivx, nxxds thx participation of xvxry mxmbxr.

So, thx nxxt timx you think you arx only onx pxrson and that your xfforts arx not nxxdxd, rxmxmbxr this kxyboard and say to yoursxlf, "I am a kxy mxmbxr in thx congrxgation, and I am nxxdxd vxry much!"

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Is Your "Fish" In Clear View?

Recently, I was asked about the significance of the "fish symbol." You know to what IU am referring, the simple outline of a fish you see displayed on car bumpers, clothing, bookmarks, and the like.

The symbol of the fish was a mark or sign employed by early Christians. These believers, especially during times of state persecution, were often hesitant to let their Christian identity be publicly known and employed a variety of methods to "reveal" themselves to fellow Christian borthers and sisters in a discreet manner. One method was the use of the "fish symbol," and it was employed in a number of ways, including as embroidery on one's clothing, a symbol painted or affixed to one's dwelling, and a mark placed so as to direct worshippers to a secret assembly place.

The choice of the fish as a Christian symbol was not without meaning. The Greek word for fish, ichthus, was used as an acrostic. Each letter from the word signified a title: the iota ("I") stood for Iesous, or "Jesus"; the chi ("Ch") stood for Christos, or "Christ"; the theta ("Th") stood for Theos, or "God"; the upsilon ("U") stood for Huios, or "Son"; and the sigma ("S") stood for Soter, or "Savior." So together, the acrostic formed a simple creedal statement: "Jesus Christ, God's Son and Savior."

Today the display of the "fish symbol" has lost its significance for many. It has become a decorative piece more than an icon. The fear of violent persecution is not present, at least in this country, and so men and women fo faith are not as fearful to let the world know their mark--to pronounce that they bear the name of Christ. Times have changed: instead of a fish symbol discreetly sketched into the bark of a tree, we are able to erect a noticeable sign on the curb of our public property.

However, have the times really changed that much? Do many not seek to hide their Christian identity, not purposely to avoid persecution, but to purposely avoid embarrassment? How many people live their lives "for God" one or two days a week only to devote the balance of the week "for self"? Certainly, by many, the identity of Christ is hidden from co-workers, fellow students, and family members; it is tucked away so others will not laugh, be offended, or exclude one from "fun." And the Christian name is checked at the door so as to allow one to "live it up" and "let loose" without the burden of a guilty conscience.

I hope that we can sing the lyrics of Isaac Watts with the passion they are due; "I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, nor to defend his cause; maintain the honors of his Word, the glory of his cross."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dads, Are We Serious?


It is factual to say that most churches are made up of more women than men, usually by a ration of close to two to one. This has certainly been the trend for the past 50 years, and perhaps for much longer. Women, by and large, are more spiritually-inclined and more committed to Christian duty than their male counterparts.


God, however, primarily entrusted men with the role of spiritual leadership in the household. It was to fathers that Moses, speaking the words of God, said, "Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lied down and when you arise. Beind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6.6-9).


These words form the Shema, a constant reminder of God's soverienty and one's personal commitment to God, and of the father's obligation to instruct his children to honor God and his law. The Rabbis taught that these words were to be recited by husbands and fathers with the evening prayers at the close of each day, and again with the morning prayers at the dawning of each new day. The importance of religious instruction in the household was not to be dismissed.


Today, many men have dismissed their obligation to provide spiritual leadership in the household. Religious instruction is left to wives and mothers, or to ministers and teachers. And, we wonder why so many have forsaken God and why our culture has become so corrupt and evil.


Fathers, it is said by sociologists that we have the greatest influence over the spiritual development of your children. The children of a father who dismisses church involvement and spiritual disciplines are much more likely to forsake such values, themselves, when they reach adulthood. These findings represent no trend, but are founded upon God's creative order. husbands and fathers, God has given us a responsibility. Have we taken it seriously.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Parent Is Much More Than a Friend


A headline in a recent U. S. A. Today newspaper was sobering. It declared, "20% say they used drugs with their mom or dad." Even more troubling, seven percent of this sampling said that they began to use drugs with one or both of their parents before the age of ten years. The accompanying article explained that the primary reason some parents use drugs with their kids is a "misguided attempt to bond" with their children. Other reasons include a desire to create a "safe-environment" for the "inevitable" drug usage of teenagers and a feeling by some parents that drug usage is not wrong or harmful if controlled and moderated.


In an attempt to identify with their children and to be seen as a friend--a "cool" friend"--parents are enabling drug use by their children. The trend is actually an "over-correction" of the perceived failed concept of traditional parenting, the arrangment where the parent-child relationship is built on well-defined roles and authority, rules and boundaries. For many who came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, traditional parenting seen as repressive and detached, and many have developed a new sense of parenting, one built on the concepts of friendship and repressiveness. But one drug-treatment counselor has wisely commented, "Parents who want to jump into the playpen don't help kids" (Mitchel Rosenthall in the U. S. A. Today).


We must not forget that God designed parenting, and he built the model of well-defined roles and authority, rules and boundaries. The book of Proverbs speaks often of God's advice to parents and children. In one significant passage we are told, "My child, keep your father's commandment, and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the wife of another, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress" (Proverbs 6.20-24).


Parents, take seriously your responsibility to teach and direct, discipline and set straight. Parenting is not just about friendship and being "liked" by your kids. If children simply needed playmates and not guardians and mentors, God would have brought them into this world surrounded by peers . . . into the life of the party. But God, in his infinite wisdom and according to his eternal plan, brought your child into this world to be seen firt and foremost by you and your spouse. Children need direction and care and not just days filled with fun.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Do We Measure Up?

A most amazing descriptionof the early church is given in Acts 4.32: "Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. . . . There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet and it was distributed to each as any had need."

The spirit of benevolence exhibited by the first Christians is truly extraordinary. Their focus was not directed toward themselves, but toward others--the poor, the hungry, the ill, the homeless, and the lost. Throughout the book of Acts, the church is seen in action, helping those in need, caring for those in difficult circumstances, and using their resources--all of their resources--to ease the suffering of those they encountered.

The spirit of benevolence exhibited in the early church is refelcted in their sense of mission. The first Christians were fully aware of the lost condition of the world about them. The compassion that motivated them to care for the poor led them to reach out to those stricken with spiritual poverty--those estranged from God and distant from his grace. Indeed within a generation the Gospel of Peace had been carried from the hill country of Judea to the hills of Rome and beyond.

If Luke were writing the story of our modern times, would he portray the church as a people of compassion, motivated to addess the needs, not of themselves, but of the poor and lost? Is our concern for the world about us, or are we focused on bringing comfort to our own lives? Consider: we have built nice, comfortable buildings used as places of assembly--indeed many such buildings grace our communities--yet many around the world are left to worship with much less comfort; and worse, many will go to sleep tonight without the benefit of warmth or security. Consider: we employ preachers and pay them handsomely--indeed in our communities several "professional" ministers are at work--yet much of the world is left without the presence of missionaries and proclaimers of the Gospel. Conder: we collect thousands upon thousands of dollars each year, money earmarked for the service of God's Kingdom, yet a large percentage of the collection is used for ourselves; and when we have been taken care of, we help the needy and lost with the leftovers.

I ask again: If Luke were writing the story of the modern church, would he portray us as a people of compassion, motivated to address the needs, not of ourselves, but of the poor and lost? Is our concern for the world about us, or are we focused on bringing comfort to our own lives.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

God Can Do A Lot


A mother, wishing to encourage her young son's progress at the piano, bought tickets for a performance by a world-renowned pianist. When the night arrived, they found their seats near the front of the concert hall and eyed the majestic Steinway waiting on the stage.


Soon the mother found a friend to talk to, and the boy slipped away. When eight o'clock arrived, the spotlights came on, the audience quieted, and only then did they notice the boy on the stage sitting at the piano, innocently picking out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."


His mother gasped, but before she could retrieve her son, the master appeared on the stage and quickly moved to the keyboard. "Don't quit--keep playing," he whispered to the boy.


Leaning over, the great pianist reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right are reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized.


In our lives, unpolished though we may be, it is the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and time again, "Don't quit--keep playing." And as we do, he augments and supplements until a work of amazing beauty is created.


So, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the needs of those in our community and world, let us have faith that God will take what we can offer and make it significant. No gift and no effort we make, no matter how small it may seem, is worthless. With the little we offer, God can do a lot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dear Child


Dear Child,


I gave you life, but I cannot live it for you. I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn. I can give you directions, but I cannot always be there to lead you. I can allow you freedom, but cannot account for it. I can take you to church, but I cannot make you believe.


I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot always decide for you. I can buy you beautiful clothes, but I cannot make you lovely inside. I can offer you advice, but I cannot accept it for you. I can give you love, but I cannot force it upon you. I can teach you to be a friend, but I cannot make you one.


I can teach you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish. I can teach you respect, but I cannot force you to show honor. I can grieve about your report card, but I cannot take your tests for you. I can advise you about friends, but I cannot choose them for you.


I can teach you about sex, but I cannot keep you pure. I can tell you about the facts of life, but I cannot build your reputation. I can tell you about alcohol, but I cannot say "No" for you. I can warn you about drugs, but I cannot stop you from using them.


I can tell you about lofty goals, but I cannot achieve them for you. I can teach you kindness, but I cannot force you to be gracious. I can warn you about sin, but I cannot determine your morals.


I can love you as my child, but I cannot place you in God's family. I can pray for you, but I cannot make you walk with God. I can teach you about Jesus, but I cannot make him your Savior. I can teach you to obey, but I cannot make Jesus your Lord. I can tell you how to live, but I cannot give you eternal life.


These lessons and choices I place with you for you to accept and decide. Love, Dad.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Church In a World of Change

Another great picture. I'm not sure where I found it.


We are in the midst of a rapidly changing culture. Virtually every aspect of life has seen dramatic change. In a relatively short period of time, a century, we have gone from traveling on horseback or in buggies to riding aboard supersonic jetliners and contemplating interplanetary travel. In the past hundred years we have gone from communicating via telegraph and the Pony Express to conversing via high-speed DSL and instant messaging. We have gone from crude kaleidoscopes and phonographs to HDTV and virtual reality.

How does this change affect the practice of faith in this postmodern era? This question is being contemplated throughout this country (and world) and is the source of much contention and confusion. It should never be argued that the bedrock principles of faith should ever change with the passing of time and the transformation of culture--a faith in God and an obedience to his Word should remain a constant in a sea of change, but the expression of our faith and obedience may change over the course of time.

For instance, Jesus demonstrated selfless service to his disciples by washing their feet on the night he was betrayed, denied, and condemned to die. He commanded his disciples to go and do likewise, but does foot washing remain the proper expression of selfless service in 21st Century America? And the early church greeted one another with holy kisses and not handshakes and hugs, sang to one another in antiphonal chants and not four-part harmony, often assembled for worship on what we would identify as Saturday evening (for the, the beginning of the first day of the week), and baptized converts only in cool, running water (and the converts usually entirely disrobed for their baptism, by the way), often with three successive immersions and not one. Do the differences mean that we have strayed from the proper path? No, not at all, we simply live in a new age and culture, a time when the espressions of faith and obedience have evolved into actions germane to our own culture.

I am not suggesting that every new thing is a proper exercise and expression of faith, for certianly there are corrupt forms of worship, service, and ecclesiastical practice that must be challenged. I am asking for an open and fair mind as we consider the changes in our culture and in the church. Let us seek the greater good of honoring and praising God instead of condemning what is personally uncomfortable and bolstering our personal agendas.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Guess She Got Her Wish

Is this picture for real?
Here's on old preacher's story I ran across years ago. I'm not sure of the source. It is sad, but it makes a profound point.



In October 1993, in the town of Worcester, Massachusetts, police found the corpse of an old woman on her kitchen floor. This was no ordinary discovery--the woman had died approximately four years earlier. Police speculated that she died at age 73 of natural causes. That's when her bank transactions ended.


How can someone be so cut off from relationships that no one even notices when she dies?


To some extent, it was a mistake. According to the Associated Press, four years earlier, neighbors had called authorities when they sensed something might be wrong. When the police contacted the neighbor's brother, he said she had gone into a nursing home. Police told the postal service to stop delivering mail. One neighbor paid her grandson to cut the grass because the place was looking run down. Another neighbor had the utility company come and shut off the water when a pipe froze, broke, and sent water spilling out the door.


To a great extent, however, it was not a mistake.


One friend from the past said, "She didn't want anyone bothering her at all. I guess she got her wish, but it's awfully sad."


Her brother said the family hadn't been close since their mother died in 1979. He added, "Someone should have noticed something before now."


The woman had lived in her house in this middle-class neighborhood for 40 years, but none of her neighbors knew her. "My heart bleeds for her," said the woman who lives across the street, "but you can't blame a soul. If she saw you out there, she never said hello to you."


As this neighborhood shows, a spirit of community only results when all of us reach out to one another. Relationships take effort.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Great Quote

Great photo.



I love this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:





"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Most Overlooked Passage

"John answered, 'Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.' But Jesus said to him, 'Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you'" (Luke 9.49-50).

Is this the most overlooked passage in the Bible? I belive that a case can be made that it is one of the most forgotten passages in Scripture. The episode is brief, and this may contribute to the disregard shown it. The episode is challenging, and perhaps this is a more likely reason it is overlooked.

What are the implications of this short encounter between John and Jesus? Do we dismiss the story as incidental and not worthy of much attention? Or do we see this brief exchange between Jesus and a disciple as a teachable moment filled with some far-reaching principle?

"We tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us," John complains. "Do not stop him," Jesus responds, "for whoever is not against you is for you."

Certainly too much can be read into this dialogue and our interpretation of it can be too extreme if not tempered with reason, but surely it offers us some advice on how to relate to others who act and speak in Jesus' name. Let's consider the implications.

Is Jesus condemning all criticism and ostracism of anyone who operates under the guise of Christianity? After all the agent of John's ire was "casting out demons in his name." What is meant by John's objection, "he does not follow with us"?

We are certainly expected and, I belive, obligated to counter false teaching, teaching that perverts the gospel and places the souls of people in peril, but we are to do so reluctantly and cautiously while making absolutely certain that the grounds of our objection to what we deem as false is secure and not based solely on our "own" sense of right and wrong. We can be too quick to judge, and we often judge others on the basis of what we feel is right or according to that which with we are personally comfortable. Our judgmetns are most often made according to our personal experiences and traditions, and so we are quick to condemn anything that is new, innovative, or different from our own practices.

Are not many of our criticisms of other religious people and groups focused on trivial matters, matters of opinion, and matters where we cannot quote chapter and verse with gravel-pounding authority? Yet are not the criticisms of false teachers in the New Testament always centered on bedrock theological principles--matters such as a proper understandaing of God the Father, Christ, and grace? Where are the controversies that are so prevalent today, controversies that are given so much of our focus today? Certainly the controversies of yesterday will differ from the controversies of today--the passing of time necessarily redefines the sources of conflict. Yet should we not take some guidance from the approach of Paul, Peter, james . . . and yes from Jesus? "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you."

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Churches Are Getting Older


Churches are getting older. I am not commenting on the age of the physical structures we have built as our meeting places, but I am speaking of the growing percentage of gray-heads that make up the membership rolls of congregations throughout this country. I am not criticizing the great number of elder citizens among us, indeed I applaud them for their faithfulness. My criticism, in part, is directed at those of younger generations, those who are leaving the church in ever-growing numbers. If the trends continue, where will the church be in thirty years? Fifty years? One hundred years?

The trends toward an aging church membership can be explained in a number of ways. For one, it can be reasoned that the attrition of younger members is natural, people are more apt to stray in their youth, but many will return as they mature. For another, it can be reasoned that modern culture presents too many enticing alternatives to church participation. For yet another, it can be reasoned that the perceived hypocrisy and legalism of many Christians and churches is responsible for driving away large numbers of young people. I am certain that each of these factors has had an affect. However, when I consider the experiences of my life I know that there are resources to combat these and other factors of attrition.

Many of my closest childhood friends and I have remained faithful members of Christ's church. Yes, for the most part we grew up in Christian homes and had parents who insisted on placing a priority on things spiritual. (Unquestionably, the role of parents in the spiritual development of children, and the retention of those values into adulthood, is very important.) Yet, I belive we were exposed to a resource that was equally as effective at instilling in us a love for God that has carried on itno adulthood. We had the opportunity to belong to a large, active, and (above all) cpiritually-centered youth group.

In essence a youth group is a type of support group, a peer base that encourages proper behavior and spiritual development. Peer pressure, I belive, can be the single greatest hindrance to the spiritual development of a child, but it also can be the single greatest asset. Children, adolescents and young adults (those from the "Buster generation" and younger), particularly in our modern culture, possesses a pack mentality--they desire, indeed demand and need, social interaction and acceptance. Today's youth must have interaction with others who are of the same generation and possess similar values, interests, and abilities. A peer base that values and participates int he corrupt mores of modern culture will greatly hinder, if not destroy, the spiritual development of a young person, but a peer base that is Christ-focused will be invaluable in the maturation of an adult Christian.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Small Church

Preaching for a small congregation has enabled me to witness the aging of the church in a very direct way. Yes, many churches, regardless of size, even some large metropolitan congregations, are aging, but at a much slower, less-discernable, and less-threatening rate. This problem is particularly hard-hitting in small, rural churches, and we must address it.

The small church has many favorable strengths. Small churches tend to be more communal and more familial in nature. A member of a small congregation is more apt to feel "at home" with his fellow congregants. An air of intimacy is present in the small church that is not easily enjoyed or replicated in the large church, and this atmosphere of togetherness and closeness can greatly encourage the faithfulness of individuals. And small churches generally address conflict with in the congregation with greater swiftness and effectiveness than do larger churches.

Despite theie strengths, however, small churches have some very unfavorable weaknesses. These limitations have become even more glaring in an age when youth have so many distracting influences surrounding them. Small churches are usually not in a position to offer many opportunities and resources to enhance the spiritual development of their young people. For instance, the educational program of the small church is usually weighted to the adult population of the congregation--necessity may demand this. Classes are offered toi children and youth, but usually several ages and grades of kids are grouped into a single class, or classes have just a handful of students present at any meeting. Many factors are at play: a lack of facilities, a shortage of teachers, and, certainly, a lack of students.

Don't get me wrong, small churches can be effective at educating children and youth and helping to develope them into stong, mature Christians. I am only outlining some of the obstacles we face. These obstacles are real, but they can be managed and overcome. The situation in which small churches find themselves may often demand creative solutions. Because the ducational system of a small church cannot be tailored to specific age groups and grade levels, perhaps a comprehensive system of intergenerational ministry should be devised, where children and adults learn together. Perhaps a number of congregations in a city or area should join together to increase the pool of available opportunities and resources. Perhaps area-wide youth activities should be organized and promoted.

These thoughts are offered for your consideration, but they are meant to encourage action. Iask, if the trend of an aging church continues, where will the church be in thirty years? Fifty? One hundred?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Whispers


A child's love is like a whisper,
Given in little ways we do not hear;
But if you listen closely
It will be very clear.
They often do not say it loud
But in how they come to you--
Daddy, will you play with me?
Mommy, tie my shoe.
The many ways they tell you
Change as they grow--
Dad, I've made the team today!
Mom, I've got to go!
Pop, I need some money;
You see, there's . . .
This girl at school.
Mama, I met a boy today,
And, wow, I thinks he's so cool!
Dad, I've got something to tell you,
I think that she's the one.
Mom, he asked me to marry him,
Would you love him as your son?
Dad, I've got some news for you,
It's gonna be a boy!
Mom, I'm kind of scared of this,
Yet I'm filled with joy!
A child's love is like a whisper,
Given in little ways we do not hear.
But if you listen closely
It will be very clear.
They often do not say it loud
But in how they come to you--
Grandpa, will you play with me?
Grandma, tie my shoe?
It is never-ending,
A blessing from above.
Listen to the whispers
Of your child's love.


(Author Unknown)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Living Life with a Sense of Urgency


Do you live your life with a sense of urgency?


"Certainly," you might say, "I am constantly confronted with deadlines at work." Or, "My kids are always on the run. I'm always bringing them to school, to baseball practices, to piano recitals . . . it never seems to end." Or, "The bills are piling up . . . they have to be paid."


So yes, in a very pragmatic way we do live our lives with a sense of urgency. However, this is not the urgency that I inquire about with my question. I am speaking of spiritual urgency, the concept that the days of one's life are not limitless, and the recognition that millions and billions of men and women are engaged in a game of spiritual roulette, for they do not know God.


Are we concerned about the lost? This is the interrogative that lies at the heart of my question. Are we concerned that countless individuals--relatives, friends, neighbors, strangers--are living lives apart from the grace of Christ? Are we concerned that many die every day, these men and women who have not discovered the hope that comes from faithful living?


The quick response is, "Yes, I am concerned," but don't we live our life with this concern neatly tucked away, placed under a hundred other more pressing concerns and only to be remembered when the time is convenient? "The grass has to be mowed." "The bills have to be paid." "I'm going on vacation." And our excuses continue.


Don't we spend much of our time following the examples of the prient and the Levite, characters in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan? These men walked past a man in dire need of help, but for whatever reasons they did not stop. perhaps one reasoned that he had an appointment that could not wait. Perhaps one reasoned that another would soon pass by and render aid. Perhaps one reasoned that the man in need had brought his trouble upon himself and did not deserve the help of another.


Before we quickly condemen the priest and the Levite for their lack of concern and compassion, let us take a look inward. Have we not been guilty of similar sins? Every day we encounter men and women who are in dire need of help, perhaps with some physical need and certainly with a spiritual need. How often do we pass them by, offering an excuse to justify our inaction?


Again, I ask, do you live your life with a sense of urgency?

Monday, September 3, 2007

An Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11.19

I was asked recently about 1 Corinthians 11.19 and what the verse meant.

This verse has been the subject of some debate through the centuries. It has been translated in these ways: "Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you who are genuine" (NRSV); ""no doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval" (NIV); and, "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."

Some argue that this verse validates the existence of divisions within the Christian community, and even promotes sectarianism, the move to isolate oneself from those deemed heretical or wrong-headed. Divorced from the context of 1 Cortinthians 11 and Paul's message both before and after, this verse can perhaps be manipulated to promote such teaching, but if it is to be considered within its proper context, then it seems that this interpretation if far from right.

In this section of his letter, and indeed for most of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been appealing for unity, humility, and mutual love and cooperation among the believers at Corinth. In the immediate conext of 1 Corinthians 11.17ff., Paul is addressing conflicts in the worship assembly, most notably abuses in the observance of the Lord's Supper. He exhorts the Corinthians church to partake of communion in a worthy manner; that is, they are to be humble and not arrogant, seeking the benefit of the other and not of self, and to promote unity and goodwill and not disunity and discord. Paul is not calling on them to divide from one another and to isolate themselves with those who are likeminded and theologically correct.

In his statement in verse 19, Paul is simply acknowledging the fact that there will be divisions (v. 18) and dissensions/disagreements (v. 19) among them, to some degree and measure, for divisiveness is a human condition. Paul is saying the improper behavior of some (note, Paul's focus is on abuses of behavior rather than understanding) will naturally highlight the genuine and pure actions of others. Consider the words of Richard Oster: "In light of Paul's instense dissatisfaction with some of the Christians in this section, it is best to understand this verse as reflecting mild irony (and perhaps sarcasm). The very carnal disposition that characterizes some of these Christians serves as the catalyst for making evident those who are pleasing to God."

In the climate of potential divisiveness, even greater than that witnessed in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is calling on the church to make every effort to remain unified. It is important to note that in a profound way this whole letter looks toward chapter 13, the chapter we often call the "Love Chapter." Love is the greater gift and is to be the aim of every Christian. When we love one another, our dissensions and divisions can be worked through and healed in humility and spiritual maturity.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Understanding Sacrifice

A little boy had a sister who needed a blood transfusion. The doctor explained that the sister had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance for survival was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

"Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asked.

Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled, and said, "Sure, for my sister."

Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.

As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny's smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence, "Doctor, when do I die?"

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he'd agreed to donate his blood. He'd thought giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. In that brief moment, Johnny had made his great decision.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Flash of Lightning


Almost without notice, a massive storm began to build on the horizon. Soon winds began to puck up in and around the town, and flashes of lightning could be seen and the distant roll of thunder could be heard and felt.


In this climate a mother worried about the safety of her child, the little girl who would be walking home from school at just this moment. She quickly got into her car and began to drive the route from her house to the school yard.


Before long, the mther spooted her daughter. Surprisingly, the little girl was not frightened by the approaching storm. Instead, she seemed gleeful, and at each flah of lightning and roar of thunder, she would stop, look, and smile. One lightning bolt followed another and with each the little girl stopped, looked at the streak of lightning, and smiled.


By the time the mother reached her daughter she was quite curious. Calling for her daughter to get in the car, she asked, "Why are you smiling at the storm?"


The little girl answered with a smile and a giggle, "Because God keeps taking pictures of me."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Is a Christian?

What is a Christian? In the Letter to Diognetus, which dates back to the 2nd Century A.D., an anonymous writer describes a strange people who are in the world but not of the world.

Christians are not differentiated from other people by country, language, or customes; you see, they do not live in cities of their own, or speak some strange dialect. . . . They live in both Greek and foreign cities, wherever chance has put them. They follow local customs in clothing, food, and the other aspects of life. But at the same time, they demonstrate to us the unusual form of their own citizenship.

They live in their own native lands, but as aliens. . . . Every foreign country is to them as their native country, and every native land as a foreign country.

They marry and have children just like everyone else, but they do not kill unwanted babies. They offer a shared table, but not a shared bed. They are passing their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the appointed laws and go beyond the laws in their own lives.

They love everyone, but are respected by all. They are put to death and gain life. They are poor and yet make many rich. They are dishonored and yet gain glory through dishonor. Their names are blackened, and yet they are cleared. They are mocked and bless in return. They are treated outrageously and behave respectfully to others.

When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if being given new life. They are attacked by Jews as aliens and are persecuted by Greeks; yet those who hate them cannot give any reason for their hostility.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One of God's Greatest Blessings


Another August has come to a close and with it the beginning of another school year. In a moment of reflection I have reminisced on a school year that had a great impact on me. I have thought about my seventh grade year and how in that one year I was surrounded by a number of individuals who have had a great influence upon my life. It was during my seventh grade year that many of the most dominant personalities that have affected me entered my life. I want to briefly introduce you to some of these "heroes" of mine.

I remember my first day of seventh grade when I met my homeroom teacher, Bruce Dean. Coach Dean was unlike any teacher I have had before or since. He was the first teacher I came to know as a friend. He was quite adept at having us look past the textbook and into the "real world." He was a man of great spirituality, coming to a faith in Christ after many years of rebellion and hardship. He was the man who first taught me that Jesus laughed (that my Lord was so much more than the stoic figure portrayed in paintings) . . . I remember Coach's chapel talk on "Jesus and the mudfigt" as if it was yesterday (yes, there was some poetic license in the talk, but it made a powerful point!). He was the man who I first heard speak of Camp Blue Haven, a place that would later become so important to me. Coach Dean tragically died during the summer following my seventh grade year, but his influence is still with me.

It was during the seventh grade that my relationship with Dale Hukle really began to grow. Dale was my youth minister, and he, rivalling even that of my parents and grandparents, was the dominant personality of my adolescence. In many ways, his influence has shaped my own personality and my faith in God. He was the man who first told me that I should become a minister, and if it wasn't for his encouragement and direction I might now be an architect or college professor. It was Dale's intense love and passion for God and his commitment to teach God's Word, formally and informally, that has had the greatest influence on me.

It was during my seventh grade year that my friendships with Chetlen Crossnoe, Tim Byars, and Vernon Barnett began to grow in earnest. I had attended school with them since kindergarten, and had been friends with them over the years, but it wasn't until we reached junior high school that our friendship as a "foursome" took off. To this day, these men and their families are special to me. We have since added Jeff Phillips to our circle, but the closeness, although we each live in different places, is just as genuine.

If space would allow, I would also write of Coach Russell Beene, Norm Clothier, Paul Smith, Steve Studer, and others. but this listing is sufficient to make a point. God has blessed me, just as I am certain that he has blessed you, with countless men and women who have had a profound affect on me--not just in the seventh grade, but throughout my life. It is good for us to reminisce and to thank God for the good people he has sent our way. We do not live life in a vacuum, devoid of contact with any other person; God has created us with the need for companionship. We need the friendship and counsel of wise and loving people. Let's not take this need and God's gifts for granted.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Rule of Life Today

I love the picture. What lessons and/or observations can be learned from it?


I am not sure who said the following, but it presents a wonderful outlook on life.





"This is the Rule of life today, as it has ever been: The world bestows its smile on those who have the strength to win. Beneath all outward semblances it looks for merit true. It little cares how much you know, but asks, what can you do?"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Adaptability Is an Essential Component of Life


Humans are a lot like turtles: we have shells. Not a physical shell that protects us from the elements or from predators, but a shell we create and modify throughout the years of our lifetime--an emotional spehere in which we can feel comfortable, secure, and unthreatened.


Sometimes we call our sphere a comfort zone. We are careful to engage in activities that don't overly stress us, to accept those beliefes that do not overly challenge us, and to relate to people that do not overly intimidate us. New activities, beliefs, and people often present us with a challenge.


Do you remember when a new student was introduced into your classroom at school? There was a nervousness in the ait, wasn't there? "Is he going to be wierd?" you asked yourself. "Will I fit in?" he wondered to himself. In time, however, these anxieties dissipated as the "new kid" gradually became incorporated into the life of your class. Fear was weakened through the expanse of knowledge and experience.


We live in a time when the culture about us is changing at an unprecedented rate. It is easy to become intimidated by the evolution of society. It is easy to shrink back into our shells and desire to live as if it were yesterday. But, adaptibility is an essential component of life.


If you were to take a snapshot of the church standing on the threshhold of the 21st Century and compare it to one taken of thew 1st Century Church, would the pictures be a mirror-image of one another? In certain respects, yes: we share in the fundamentals of Christian faith. In certain respects, no: we may differ in terms of methodology and practice. The passage of time results in the transformation of any organism or institution.


The Gospel of Jesus is timeless and the faith we express and practice is not affected by the transformation of soceity and culture. However, our methods of teaching and worship, service and fellowship, are often affected by time, and rightfully so. And, thus, when certain circumstances such as lessened effectiveness demand change let us not fear new things, but approach them with a rationality founded on the Spirit's direction, study, and prayer.


Remember the 1st Century church as it wrestled with the inclusion of Gentile converts within the boundary of Christian fellowship. The church was faced with a dilemma and the specter of newness. Many sought to withdraw within their shells--within their established comfort zones--and not attain to a new plateau. Many sought God's guidance, stepping out of their shells, and becoming transformed into a people ready to confront the next challenge.


Where do we stand today?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Rules to Promote Harmony

I ran across this list of "Excellent Rules to Promote Harmony Among Church Members." I am not certain of the author, and the is obviously quite dated (considering the language), but the points are good.

1. To remember that we are all subject to failings of one kind or another.

2. To bear with--and not magnify--each other's infirmities.

3. To pray for one another in our social meetings, and particularly in private.

4. To avoid going from house to house, for the purpose of bearing news and interferring with other people's business.

5. Always turn a deaf ear to any slanderous report and to lay no charge against any person until well founded.

6. If a member be in fault, tell him of it in private, before it is mentioned to others.

7. To watch against the shyness of each other and put the best construction on any action that has the appearance of opposition or resentment.

8. To observe the just rules of Solomon--that is, to leave off contention before it is meddled with.

9. If a member has offended, to consider how Godlike it is to forgive, and how unlike a Christian it is to seek revenge.

10. Remember that it is always a giant artifice of the devil to promote distance and animosities among members of the church; and we should therefore watch against everything that furthers this end.

11. To consider how much more good we can do in the world at large, and in the church in particular, when we are all united in love, than we could do when acting alone, and indulging in a contrary spirit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 7)


Jesus says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4.8).

What a statement! What a promise from God to us!

What a blessing! Consider the awesomeness of Almighty God desiring to draw close to you . . . to me. But such an intimate relationship is predicated on our active involvement. God takes the first step . . . the first 100 steps! . . . but we must make a commitment to him, as well. A relationship with God does not happen passively, it is not built by him alone.

James sayd, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."

How does one draw near to God?

There are a number of ways to draw near to God . . . each is essential.

Bible study is so important. How can we know God without listening to him and considering the words he has given to us?

The relationships we have with men and women of faith . . . God's people . . . his church . . . help us to draw near to God. Our relationship with God is not cultured in a vacuum, our relationship with God is not isolated . . . it is built within a framework of relationships. God has placed us in a community of believers. I love a verse in the song, Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?. The lyrics say, "Have you ever stood in the family with the Lord there in your midst seen the face fo Christ on your brother then I say you've seen Jesus, my Lord."

Observation of nature and appreciation of God's creation can draw us closer to God. Looking at a snow-capped Hesperus Peak will certainly put life into perspective . . . how awesome is the God that built that mountain!

Acts of snow and service rendered to others can certain bring us close to God. As we love others we are expressing God's love.


Through an active and vibrant prayer life, we draw near to God.

Perhaps prayer is the single most important way in which we draw near to God. Bible study works to inform us of God's character and will . . . prayer represents, in part, our response to God . . . our affirmation of who he is . . . our willingness to come close . . . an indication that we want to be in relationship with him.


Communication is vital to any relationship. Indeed without healthy communication a meaningful relationship is not possible.


Consider the closest relationships you enjoy . . . with your spouse . . . with your parents . . . with a brother or sister . . . with a friend . . . with your kids. Can you imagine going a day . . . a week . . . a year! . . . without communication . . . without a meaningful discussion?


I have a friend . . . he and I were so close for much of our lives. best friends . . . inseparable . . . but I haven't physically spoken to him in over two years! Since our college days were over, we have drifted apart . . . different careers . . . different states . . . lives that do not come into contact much. A lack of communication has kept us apart.


The Jewish leaders failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Why? What was the result of their forgetfulness?


The story of Israel is a sad story, especially that of its religious leaders. How unimaginable it is that they failed to recognize Jesus, the Son of God, as he lived in their midst. Why the blindness?


These men, the Pharisees and scribes of the law, were religious zealots, but they wore their faith on their sleeves. They read aloud God's Word, but the words fell of deaf ears. They spoke at God, but not to him. They were men of God in name only. They did not know God, and they failed to see him.


James says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."


What a statement! What a promise from God to us!


What a blessing! Consider the awesomeness of Almighty God desiring to draw close to you . . . to me. But such an intimate relationship is predicated on our active involvement. God takes the first step . . . the first 100 steps! . . . but we must make a commitment to him, as well. A relationship with God does not happen passively, it is not built by God alone.