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#TheHole#Emptiness#Life

Friday, February 19th, 2021

Augustine is credited with saying, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find their rest in you.” (Edited by me since the original was in King James English).  Just take a look around and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize his statement is true. Solomon has shown us over and over in Ecclesiastes that those things which we pursue will never satisfy. But just when you think he might be done, Solomon moves on to another empty pursuit. This week he will cover riches and honor.

Have you ever researched lottery winners? While there are some success stories of people who stayed humble and are still living in their modest home and living a modest lifestyle, or got a financial advisor to handle their finances,  there are also those who splurged on a new home and new toys and then lost it all to bankruptcy and divorce or in trouble with the law. They would be perfect examples of Solomon’s conclusion: all is empty.

My sermon this Sunday is from Eccl.5:8-6:12. I’ve titled it The Hole because that seems to me what Solomon is saying. But all is not lost! Just as Solomon talks about The Hole we can find ourselves in by chasing after empty things, we can also have the hole filled.  William Butler Yeats once said, “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Translated into Grandi language that says: “When things fall apart (as they will), nothing can hold life together.” I would disagree with Mr. Yeats because of the ONE who holds all of life together.  To help me make my point I’m going to share the story of Becket Cook, which comes from his book, Change of Affection. Becket was a practicing gay man who had an encounter with Christ and even though he had the world and all its “things,” he gave it up to follow Jesus. It is a thrilling story.

I’m recovering from gall bladder and hernia surgery as many of you know.  Ryan has a copy of my sermon just in case I can’t go, but Lord willing, I will be preaching this Sunday. I’d appreciate your prayers for health and a solid communication of the truth…by me or Ryan. Thanks.

#ImportantDay#DayofReflection

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

Today is an important day for several reasons: one personal and one spiritual.

The spiritual first. Today, February 17th, is the beginning of Lent, or Ash Wednesday. Lent is the 40 days before the day we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. This year that will be April 4th. I must confess to you that growing up in the church tradition I belonged to we did not observe Lent. I was so naive about it that I almost went up to a teacher who had a dark spot in the middle of his forehead and told him he had dirt there. 🙂 I had no clue! I also know some of my friends would talk about giving up something for Lent. Again, I had no clue.  My teacher was Catholic, as were my friends, and I now know that was a significant aspect of their belief system.  It had to be only 15 or so years ago that I really gave any notice to Lent. I heard some folks talking and decided it would behoove me to know more. For several years I decided to give it a go so one year I gave up caffeine pop. Another year I gave up beef (which wasn’t really hard since I didn’t eat it much anyway). One year I gave up all pop and drank only water. Then I finally figured out it really wasn’t about giving up something; it was really about surrender.

In his book, Journey to the Cross, a 40 day devotional to be used during Lent, Paul David Tripp writes: “It is right and beneficial to take a season of the year to reevaluate, recalibrate, and have the values of our hearts clarified once again. Lent is such a season. As we approach Holy Week, where we remember the sacrifice, suffering, and resurrection of our Savior, it’s good to give ourselves to humble and thankful mourning. Lent is about remembering the suffering and sacrifice of the Savior. Lent is about confessing our ongoing battle with sin…And Lent is about giving ourselves in a more focused way to prayer, crying out for help that we desperately need from the only One who is able to give it.” (Pages 8-9)

I no longer use Lent to give up something physical. I try to use it to do just what Tripp says: “to reevaluate, recalibrate, and have the values of my heart clarified once again.”  May I challenge you to do the same? I have been reading his book in preparation for my sermons on the cross and the resurrection. I’m actually on Day 17…and no I didn’t plan it that way. Perhaps you might even consider getting a copy of his book to help guide you.

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On a more personal note: this day has some significance. Many of you know of my struggles physically since testing positive for Covid on December 21. I will spare you the ugly details. Let’s just suffice it to say I lost between 40-50 pounds in less than a month. After multiple tests they have narrowed it down to gall stones which lodged in my bile duct which caused my physical issues. After having them removed, it was highly recommended that I have my gall bladder removed. My words: I have a gravel pit in there.  Oddly enough, I NEVER had a moment of pain. However much I hated getting Covid, it actually alerted my doctors (and me) to the potential for a great amount of pain and the possibility of infection which could have caused serious issues down the road. So I am having my gall bladder removed today. I guess that gives new meaning to Lent being a time of giving up something?  🙂  By the time many (most) of you read this my surgery will probably be over. I am hoping for the laparoscopy so I can come home today. All I ask is that whenever you read this you do say a prayer. I would like to recover as quickly as possible. On the bright side: we were “blessed” with 8-9 inches of snow Monday and Tuesday morning so I can’t be outside riding my bike anyway.  But I have been riding inside and am praying for a good answer to my question: when can I start riding inside again? I’ll keep you posted on how things went. Meanwhile, I do ask for your prayers. For more on this whole process and how I am “seeing” it, please check out my other blog here.

#Worship#Religion

Friday, February 12th, 2021

Several years ago Victoria Osteen, the wife of entrepreneur, Joel Osteen, was recorded “preaching” and saying the following: “When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourselves because God takes pleasure when we’re happy…When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really, you’re doing it for yourself.”  I have seen that video clip and am still dumbfounded by it. What I have not seen since it was shared on social media is that clip of her saying that being paired with a scene from the film, Billy Madison where a man says, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard.”

When we hear a religious figure say out loud that we do not worship God for God, we know that is patently absurd. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says the exact opposite of what Mrs. Osteen and others of her ilk say. It says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Sadly, much of contemporary Christianity has changed that to “God’s chief end is to glorify man and enjoy him forever.”

One pastor said, “It is possible to go to church and hear little about God and much about you.”

How can a person argue with that when it is staring us in the face?  “I didn’t get anything out of church today.” “What a waste of time today was. The music was too slow and the sermon didn’t touch me at all. I got nothing out of being in church.” What a difference it would make if we flipped that and asked, “What did I give God today? Did I give Him my full-on worship? Did I listen intently to the message as it was delivered from God’s Word? Was my heart into worship today?”

My sermon Sunday will tackle some of these thoughts as I use Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 to talk about Religion Investigated. I would love it if you would watch the live stream if you are unable to come.  If you are I look forward to seeing you in person.  And, as always, I appreciate your prayers.

#Pitfalls#Platforms

Friday, February 5th, 2021

I think I speak for all of us when I say this: it would be nice if, as we go through life, that things would hum on all cylinders. But you know as well as I do that is just not feasible. Life has its roadblocks, side roads we are forced to take, and landmines waiting for us to step on. But on the flip side life is also filled with incredible opportunities and experiences and adventures just waiting for us to take part in!  As I see it we can choose whether to fall victim to the pitfalls of life or we can use the platforms to rise.

To do that we need to adjust our thinking. When I was an Associate/Youth Pastor right out of college, the church I was on staff with needed to do some renovating and expanding.  I was young and naive and so I just assumed the folks with the money would be the ones who would buy the bonds we were selling. We were to go to their house and explain the process and why we were doing this and ask them if they would like to buy a bond of a certain amount to invest in the future of the church as well as their own. I’ll never forget what the company’s rep told us: “It is common to think the family with the big house, multiple cars and good jobs will buy the bonds. Think again. Most of their money is tied up and leveraged to the hilt. It will the grandparents, the moms and pops, the lonely widow, or someone who does not appear to have many earthly goods who will buy the bonds.”  He was so right. 

A change in thinking was in order. We find our thinking changing as we mature. We find it changing as we are confronted with reality.  We find it changing as we are facing life challenges.  Those changes will be either pitfalls or platforms. 

My sermon is from Eccl.3:16-4:16 this week.  I’d like to invite you to join me either in person or online. If you can do neither, prayer would be much appreciated!

#Life#Sacred#SpeakUp

Friday, January 15th, 2021

Every once in a while a pastor has to-by design or by expository preaching through a book-come across a subject which is uncomfortable or controversial.  I think people are much more forgiving if you are preaching through a book and come across an uncomfortable subject, like say…tithing.  But when a pastor gets on his soapbox or high horse and screams and challenges any opposite view that is when listeners get “antsy.”

This Sunday has the potential to be one of the latter. Way back in September when I doing a series called “Q&A” one of the questions was going to be “What About Abortion?”  I scrapped it because the time was not right (for several reasons). I then chose to not preach about it before the election lest someone think I was hyping a particular political position and was against a certain candidate.

Here is why I held off: I do not believe abortion is a political issue, nor should it be. I believe it is a Biblical issue, a moral issue.  I heard a podcast this past week where Alisa Childers was interviewing John Cooper, the lead singer of the Christian rock band, Skillet. John said the same thing-that it was a Biblical issue.  Anyway, when I started working on the Ecclesiastes series Life Matters, it seemed to fall in line that now was the time.  Couple that with this Sunday being “Sanctity of Life” Sunday and it was like the perfect storm.

I have no intention of being judgmental or to froth at the mouth out of contempt for those who perform or have had, campaign for or even encouraged an abortion. There is enough guilt thrown at them without me adding to it.  My approach is going to be simple and straightforward: How pro-life is the Bible? and How does God see the unborn? A massive amount of Scripture will be used with the final emphasis on Psalm 139: 13-18.

Each week I invite you to join me/us in our worship. We will be live this week with both services being offered in person and live stream.  So I do invite you to join us at 9 & 10:45. However, the best and greatest thing you can do is P.R.A.Y. I want the message of the Bible to come through loud and clear, that the cacophony of voices will be silenced, and God will be heard. Thanks ahead of time.

#CustomerService#GoodorBad?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

I’m going to blow off a little bit of steam. I will do it nicely and will not even mention the firm’s name since I do not want to cause heartache for the person if for some reason it was to get out. Here is what happened:

There has been an error in my billing from this certain company for close to a year now. When I realized it, I contacted their CS department to try to straighten it out.  She told me they couldn’t do anything about it. Now get this: it was their customer service rep’s fault. They put the service charge on the wrong phone. When we bought Jo a new phone in February, we put a line on her phone for her sister to use in the nursing home. Long story short: she doesn’t even know where the phone is (and probably hasn’t even looked), so I wanted to drop that line and save a line use charge of $25/month.  That sounds good until you look closer and see that the rep put the charges for Jo’s new phone on that line! So I tried to have them drop the charge and make the change. No go.

So I went to the local store rep to see what could be done. She (the store manager) listened and sent a request for a customer acceleration. After going back and forth I also told her I was due (way overdue since I still use an iPhone 5)  for a new phone and if they couldn’t straighten out their own CSR’s mistake why would I consider getting a new one?  Anyway, after several back and forths she told me she could fix it for me. When would be a good time to come in? I told her I was in jail, I mean quarantine for ‘rona so it would need to wait.  After several tries, we set up yesterday, Tuesday, at 1:00.  I get there at 12:45 and find out she stepped out for a few minutes to go check on her dog but she would be back in time. He asked my name and it should have been my first clue when my name was not on the list. So Jo and I waited…and waited…and waited.  Very patiently I might add. At 1:20 we left. I have yet to hear from her.

I hope you won’t take this wrong but I began thinking about the church and each individual person. As a church we are representatives of Jesus. But we are also representatives of our church family. When people walk into our church building (or see us online) how are they treated? Are we kind? Engaging? Welcoming? Did they find us real or planted there with fake, plastic smiles?

My feelings about this company were not enhanced by the discourse over the past two months, and most definitely by yesterday’s failed connection.  I’m hard-pressed to still consider this company as a carrier for my new phone.  Let’s not make the same mistake with our churches. The solution is us. Not “let someone else take care of it.” You be the rep!!

#EndofYearThoughts#Warnings

Wednesday, December 30th, 2020

If you read my other blog-Living in the Shadow-you know I said I would be taking a break from my blog until next Monday, January 4th. But every year on this blog I feature some items that have caught my eye; a warning or two I might issue; and I always…ALWAYS…include a song. So here is my end of the year post with a random inclusion of ideas.

I read something this morning from 40 Days of Grace by Paul David Tripp that set my mind for an end of the year reckoning. These are all from Day 12-pages 30-31.

“We don’t grieve our sin because we don’t see it. It is ironic that we tend to see the righteousness we don’t and we fail to see the stains every day of our lives.

Here’s how confession works.  You cannot confess what you haven’t grieved, you cannot grieve what you do not see, and you cannot repent of what you have not confessed.

So cry out today for eyes to see, that is, for accurate personal insight…Because of him, you don’t need to be afraid of your unrighteousness; no, it is your delusions of unrighteousness that are the grave danger.” {End quotes}

There is always reflection that takes place at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. But the reflection is worthless if honest stock is not taken at the time of introspection. As Tripp implies we often get enamored by our own unrighteousness and don’t see the unrighteousness in us. Sort of like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They were so blinded by their own self-righteousness they couldn’t see past the log in their eye.

And Tripp was so right! How can I truly confess my sin if I have not grieved over that sin. And how can I grieve over that sin unless I see it? Real, honesty confession requires, no demands, complete honesty in seeing my sin for what it is.

May the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 bring a new honesty to me.

So…there is my spiritual thought for the end of the year.

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One of the things “I predict” for 2021 is a greater assault on historic, orthodox Christianity. I once thought the old Emergent heresy/tripe/garbage had died an inglorious death. I could have only wished. My reading this past year has shown me that it is alive and well in “spiritual thought leaders” like Brian McClaren, William Paul Young, Richard Rohr, Tony Jones, Michael Gungor, Jen Hatmaker, the late Rachel Held Evans, and others. (Rob Bell used to be a big one also).  It has a new handle called “Progressive Christianity.” If you question my thoughts on its devastation to historic Christianity then you need to read Alisa Childer’s book, Another Gospel?I reviewed it here.  And may I also suggest you listen to Alisa’s podcast? She is engaging and has guests who study so-called Progressive Christianity. In fact, she went through a faith struggle of her own.

When it comes to reading material I am all for learning. But we also need to be careful what we feed our minds. GIGO was a famous moniker back in the early computer age. I propose that same thing applies to our reading. Filling our mind with garbage; books about mediation by Deepak and others; filling our minds with books like mentioned above are dangerous to our souls. I don’t always agree with what I read but I work hard at filtering out what shouldn’t be there. I am on a mission in 2021 to read those books which enrich me with spiritual knowledge, knowledge gleaned from a proper view of God and Scripture.

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Finally, I know I’ve gone on long. But I have to include a song. One is an end of the year song. One is a song for 2021.  First the end of the year song. I know it probably not your cup of tea but the 80s never died. They are sleeping. 🙂  And have they aged? You tell me. The voice has definitely lowered (as expected).

I have renewed my “love affair” with my all-time favorite band, DeGarmo & Key. This is absolutely my favorite song by them. It shows its late 70s vibe but the lyrics are what I expect for 2021. Please give it a listen.

Have a great end of the year and a good start to the new one.  See you in 2021.

#Positive#WastingLife

Saturday, December 26th, 2020

It seems no matter how hard one tried there seemed to be no way to avoid the China virus. I am no exception. Nor is Jo. Nor is Tami. Nor is Diana or her husband, Jim. Nor is Ryan and his wife, Hope. It hit like a landslide and there was nothing any of us could do about it. It wasn’t just us. Some of our friends as well. So we have been quarantined since Monday and if we finally get symptom free our breakout day will be Wednesday or Thursday. Jo, Tami and I were tested Monday.  So, needless to say, in-church is not meeting Sunday. We are doing all virtual. Since Ryan, Jo and I are all positive it will be just us three in the morning. Your prayers would be appreciated.

As for the sermon? Well, it is the end of truth. That sounds bad since truth will never die. It is the end of the year long theme of “Truth!” Sunday’s sermon will be Back to the Future. I subtitled it “Don’t Waste Your Life.” It will be a quick look over this past year and a challenge for 2021. I’ll share some of my thoughts in another post or two.

I’ll also unveil my theme for next year with a new banner thanks to my techgeek, Ryan. What a gem of a friend God gave me! 

You can watch Sunday’s sermon via live stream on the church’s FB page or YouTube. I hope you will join me. The links are on the church’s website.

#12Days#LessonstoLearn

Sunday, December 13th, 2020

Saturday night as Jo and I were sitting in the living room she asked me if I had heard the story of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I told her I had but couldn’t tell her exactly what they meant. She then read it to me. I had her send it to me via text so I could retype it here for you.

The song was written by Catholics in England as a song to teach their children about the Christian faith.  “True love” refers to God. “Me” refers to every Christian.  The other symbols mean the following:

  • 1 Partridge in a pear tree= Jesus Christ
  • 2 Turtle Doves= the Old and New Testaments
  • 3 French Hens= Faith, Hope and Love or the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
  • 4 Calling Birds= the Four Gospels
  • 5 Golden Rings= first 5 books of the OT
  • 6 Geese-A-Laying= the 6 days of creation
  • 7 Swans-A-Swimming= the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (I cor. 12:8-10)
  • 8 Maids-A-Milking= the 8 Beatitudes
  • 9 Ladies Dancing= the 9 Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • 10 Lords-A-Leaping= the 10 Commandments
  • 11 Pipers Pipers= Eleven Apostles, not Judas
  • 12 Drummers Drumming= The Twelve points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

So there you have it.  Brings a whole new meaning to a seemingly fun and mundane and nonsensical song.  Now you can teach it to others!!

#Troublemakers#WhatToDo?

Friday, November 6th, 2020

Charles Schultz had a Peanuts cartoon where Linus was watching TV when Lucy demands that he change the channel to what she wants to watch.  He says, “No” and she threatens him again.  He then looks at her and says, “What gives you the right to come in here and demand your way?” She says to him: “See these five fingers? Separate they are nothing. Weak. But curl them together and they become a force powerful to behold.” To which Linus answers, “What station do you want?” As he walks away he is shown looking at his hand and asking, “Why can’t you guys get together like that?”

There is no worst kept secret than a church filled with fighting, or even specifically one or two people whom we will label as troublemakers.  In fact, someone has said, “Where there’s light, there’s always bugs.”  At some point in our lives-as a business, a church, a school, even personally-we will have to deal with troublemakers. But it just seems like the church troublemaker speaks the loudest, shares the widest, and spreads the farthest than any of those other examples.

What is a church to do? That is the title of my Q & A series question this week: What about Troublemakers?  I’ll be giving several examples of troublemakers this week and then use Diotrephes (3 John 9-10) as a main example of what is suggested we do with them (besides toss them out).  I’d appreciate your prayers this week. They mean a lot.